Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Chris McDaniel finally has filed his long-awaited legal challenge to the results of the June 24 Republican primary runoff he lost to incumbent Thad Cochran.
McDaniel is asking the courts to award him the nomination or at least order a new primary election.
The state senator from Ellisville filed the legal challenge in circuit court in his home county of Jones. He has promised it was coming for more than a week, alleging numerous voter irregularities, but only completed the process hours before the 5 p.m. deadline to act.
Filing in his home county does not provide McDaniel any particular advantage in succeeding in the challenge since under state law Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice William Waller Jr. is required to appoint a special judge to hear the case.
Under state law, McDaniel can file in any county where he believes voter irregularities occurred.
McDaniel led the first primary on June 3, but did not garner the majority vote needed to avoid a runoff. He lost the runoff by 7,667 votes out of the 392,197 cast statewide.
But he has refused to concede and endorse Cochran, a six-term incumbent. McDaniel has alleged people who voted in the June 3 Democratic primary ineligibly voted in the Republican runoff as well as numerous instances of lax ballot security and voter fraud.
McDaniel also is pointing to a state law that says a person should not vote in a party primary unless the voter intends to support the party nominee in the general election. McDaniel says Cochran was able to win with the aid of Democratic voters, primarily African-Americans, who were convinced to vote for Cochran after his campaign and supporters aired racially charged ads against McDaniel.
In the past, the courts have ruled the law saying people should not vote in a primary unless they plan to support the party’s nominee in the general election was unenforceable.
But Mitch Tyner of Jackson, an attorney representing McDaniel in the challenge, said, “The first amendment right of the Party to associate was clearly infringed upon on June 24. The Party should have arranged for the primary to limit Democratic participation, but the Cochran campaign elicited the exact opposite.”
For weeks, the Cochran campaign has maintained McDaniel and his Tea Party advocates are claiming election irregularities and fraud with no evidence. The Cochran campaign has said it is focusing on the November general election against Democratic opponent Travis Childers of Booneville.
In a joint statement, Jackson attorneys Phil Abernathy and Mark Garriga, who are representing Cochran, said, “After many weeks of posturing and press conferences, and political stunts, we have finally reached the point where this matter will be settled by the courts.
“As we said last week, we look forward to holding the McDaniel campaign to the burden of proof that the law requires and defending the votes of the majority of Mississippians who elected Senator Cochran as the Republican nominee.”
McDaniel originally had asked the executive committee of the state Republican Party to hear the challenge, but it said the issue would be better handled by the courts.
McDaniel has alleged more than 15,000 instances of ballot irregularities, but critics say many of those can be easily explained. For instance, a volunteer looking for irregularities on behalf of McDaniel, cited Tyrner and his wife as possible illegal crossover ballots, though that was not the case.
“This challenge is not about the candidates,” McDaniel said in a statement. “It is about the integrity of Mississippi’s election process, and we are committed to ensuring that process is accurate and fair for future Republican candidates.”