OUR OPINION: McDaniel trial date set; campaign must go on

Last week, going on three months after the June 3 first ballot of the Republican primary voting for a U.S. Senate nomination started, a special state judge set a trial date for the contested outcome of the primary, narrowly won June 24 in a runoff by incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran over state Sen. Chris McDaniel.

McDaniel, a favorite of Tea Party voters within the GOP, led narrowly but not by a majority after the June 3 voting. Cochran, criticized for waging a less-than-fully engaged campaign to that point, came roaring back with all the assets and organizational skills expected of a 42-year veteran of congressional politics.

McDaniel lost, and he is furious about it. Even more, he and his supporters accuse Cochran and his campaign apparatus of cheating to win a 7,667 vote majority statewide in the June 24 runoff.

The high political drama played out since June 24 is unprecedented in Mississippi electoral history, and it has attracted coverage from the nation’s most influential newspapers, networks and political blogs, and of course, all the Mississippi media.

Special Judge Hollis McGehee of Lucedale has said the trial will begin Sept. 16 and must end by Oct. 6, just shy of a month before the general election.

Cochran and Democratic nominee Travis Childers of Booneville of course should move forward with full energy campaigning for the general election. Issues beg to be raised, discussed, and it is hoped, debated in some mutually agreeable, structured setting.

Lawyers will be the stars of the courtroom portion of the drama, set in the Circuit Court of Jones County where McDaniel filed his lawsuit seeking to be declared the winner of the primary.

If McDaniel vs. Cochran is seen as David facing Goliath, the same could be said for the attorneys. Mitch Tyner, who heads a small Jackson-based firm, is McDaniel’s chief counsel. Cochran’s lawyers are Phil Abernethy (a native of Booneville) and Mark Garriga (former chief of staff to the late Gov. Kirk Fordice), both members of the Butler-Snow firm, the largest in Mississippi, with muscular political connections and a partner list including former Gov. Haley Barbour. Barbour also is a celebrity Washington lobbyist and an unrelenting Cochran supporter.

The prize remains the U.S. Senate seat, and the sooner the energy focuses fully on that campaign the better off Mississippi voters will be.