Cochran campaign accused of 'harvesting black votes' on hijacked conference call

A conference call for reporters arranged by Sen. Thad Cochran’s (R-Miss.) campaign to respond to vote-buying allegations was hijacked Wednesday by apparent supporters of his primary challenger, state Sen. Chris McDaniel.

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The call was scheduled for local and national media unable to attend an earlier press conference in Mississippi, during which the Cochran campaign refuted a report from a conservative blogger outlining claims that the Cochran campaign had paid $15 each to African-American voters to support him in the runoff. That report relied on a paid interview from a black self-proclaimed minister in Mississippi.

While Cochran’s team made no secret about its strategy to woo black voters in the runoff — a strategy that was ultimately successful, and helped drive him to a 6,700-vote win — his campaign vehemently denied the report. 

Cochran campaign adviser Austin Barbour opened the call in typical fashion, talking about the campaign’s get-out-the-vote efforts, but was soon interrupted by an unidentified caller repeatedly talking about how “black people harvested cotton” and asking why the Cochran campaign was “harvesting black votes.”

Barbour tried to regain control of the call, telling the questioner to wait until the end to ask questions — but he was again cut off.

"I will give everybody a chance to answer a question when we get through, and we'll be happy to answer any question from members of the media," Barbour said.

The unidentified caller again interrupted: “I’d like to know if the black people were harvesting cotton, why do you think it's OK to harvest their votes? They're not animals, why're you treating black people like they're just votes?"

Barbour replied that he would be “happy to address any question, no matter the lunacy of it,” and was again cut off by the caller, who said his question wasn’t “lunacy.” 

“Why did you use black people? Why did you use black people to get Cochran elected when they're not even Republicans, and you're treating them as if they're just idiots, that they'll vote for Cochran just because they're black?” he asked.

Barbour, at that point, said the call had been hijacked and ended it — but the line remained open for a dozen minutes or more, with members of the local and national media exchanging puzzled and frustrated comments about the unidentified questioner.

"We were all listening and you were being rude," one woman said to another caller.

Another declared: “If it was a Chris supporter he wasn’t doing Chris any favors.”

It's unclear who exactly was on the call; the conservative blogger who published the vote-buying allegations tweeted out the number for the conference call to his 6,000 followers.

Though Cochran claimed victory in the runoff last Tuesday, McDaniel has yet to concede. His campaign is gathering evidence to contest the results of the election in court, alleging that thousands of votes from residents who voted in both the Democratic primary and the GOP runoff, which is barred by Mississippi election law, should be thrown out.