McDaniel: Suggestions campaign involved in taping ‘outrageous’

BRANDON, Miss. — State Sen. Chris McDaniel (R), Sen. Thad Cochran’s (R-Miss.) primary challenger, denied again Sunday evening that he knew anything surrounding the arrest of a man who was allegedly videoing Cochran's wife before news of the arrest went public.

“Any suggestion that this campaign had anything to do with that is outrageous, and we reject it outright, fully and completely,” he told The Hill on Sunday, after a neighborhood meet and greet just outside Jackson, Miss.

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McDaniel’s campaign has been grappling with news that Clayton Kelly, an apparent campaign supporter, allegedly snuck into the nursing home of Cochran’s infirm and bedridden wife to videotape her for an apparent political hit on Cochran, and was arrested Friday night.

Though the candidate told The Hill Saturday morning that he hadn’t seen the news, McDaniel's campaign manager left a voicemail with Cochran’s campaign manager nearly two hours prior to McDaniel’s conversation with The Hill expressing her and McDaniel’s condolences and declaring that the candidate would like to speak with Cochran personally about it.

“The phone call was an act of decency on the part of my campaign manager — she told me she was doing the right thing — and they’ve taken that act of decency and they’ve tried to take advantage of it. And that’s all I’m going to say about that. We reject any suggestion or inclination that we had any involvement whatsoever," said McDaniel. 

National Republicans have questioned whether the voicemail indicates the McDaniel campaign was somehow behind the video, because his campaign manager appeared to know about the connection to Cochran before a Clarion-Ledger report Saturday morning made it public. 

But a local political blog posted a police press release outlining the details of the arrest late Friday night, and commenters on the blog drew the Cochran connection early Saturday morning, noting the well-known fact that Rose Cochran is a resident at the nursing home named in the release.

According to Breitbart News, McDaniel campaign manager Melanie Sojourner also found out about the video shortly after Kelly allegedly posted it, and began reaching out to see how it could be taken down. 

McDaniel’s Sunday assertion came in response to request from The Hill to clarify what the timeline of the voicemail was and why it contradicted his Saturday statement to The Hill. 

Asked further whether he’d like to clarify that timeline and the apparent inaccuracies, he said “I think that’s been done via our statements — I think it’s very clear.”

Noel Fritsch, the candidate’s spokesman, told the Clarion-Ledger Saturday night that McDaniel was notified of the situation early Saturday morning but wasn't fully briefed on the particulars until around 10:30, after his interview with The Hill.

The news has roiled the increasingly nasty race just two weeks out from the June 3 primary, and it comes as a new survey shows Cochran and McDaniel in a margin-of-error race.

The survey, conducted by The Polling Company for Citizens United Political Victory Fund — which has endorsed McDaniel — gives him 43 percent support to Cochran's 39 percent support among likely GOP primary voters, within the poll's 4.4 percent margin of error. A third candidate, Tom Carey, took 3 percent support, and 12 percent are undecided.

That means the race could be heading to a runoff if no candidate gets a majority of the votes. 

McDaniel stressed that Cochran's personal relationships should be off-limits in the campaign and that they're "none of our campaign’s business." Rather, he urged a focus on the issues.

“The debate is needed — a debate over the future of the party, a debate over the Constitution, a debate over spending and fiscal responsibility. That’s the debate. Those are the issues we’re going to focus on, and those are the only issues we’re going to focus on," he said. 

This post was updated at 5:49 p.m. 

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