By Emily Wagster Pettus
JACKSON – The Republican who lost a primary runoff election to Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran is taking the first step to challenge the outcome.
Chris McDaniel’s campaign said it believes it has found about 4,900 of examples of improper voting in the June 24 runoff. Most of them were people marked as voting in the June 3 Democratic primary and the June 24, the campaign said. Mississippi does not register voters by party, but state law bans a person from voting in one party’s primary and another party’s runoff in the same cycle.
The McDaniel campaign did not release documents supporting its claim.
McDaniel spokesman Noel Fritsch said the campaign served papers Thursday to Cochran’s son, Clayton, giving notice of the intent to challenge based on allegations of improper crossover voting. Fritsch said the papers had to be served directly to Cochran or to a member of his family.
Cochran received nearly 6,800 more votes than McDaniel in the June 24 runoff. The runoff came three weeks after tea party-backed McDaniel finished about 1,400 votes ahead of Cochran in a three-person primary that also included a first-time candidate who ran a low-budget campaign.
Cochran campaign spokesman Jordan Russell said the campaign is aware of McDaniel’s notice to challenge, and attorneys are discussing it. “This challenge is baseless. It’s not going anywhere,” Russell said. “The voters made a decision, and it’s over.”
Cochran campaign adviser Austin Barbour said Wednesday that the McDaniel campaign needs to “put up or shut up” – either produce documents to support its claims or accept the loss.
The election challenge will be filed with the state Republican Party executive committee, as required by law. If the committee rejects a request for a new election, McDaniel could file an appeal with a state circuit court in a county where it believes it has found voting irregularities, said state Sen. Michael Watson, an attorney who is working with the McDaniel campaign.
Fritsch said Thursday that any court filing could be a couple of weeks away.
The Republican nominee will face two candidates in the Nov. 4 general election: Democratic former U.S. Rep. Travis Childers and the Reform Party’s Shawn O’Hara.