The Mississippi Senate primary runoff is already full of sound and fury.
With the June 24 runoff less than three weeks away, animosity and missteps between Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and state Sen. Chris McDaniel have quickly returned. On Thursday, the incumbent’s campaign was throwing barbs at the challenger, while McDaniel fumbled yet another controversy.
McDaniel’s campaign said Wednesday it sent the three to the Hinds County courthouse to oversee ballot counting and bring back final tallies, and that they were directed into the building by a security guard. The Hinds County Sheriff’s Department pushed back on the McDaniel campaign’s version of events but absolved McDaniel's campaign of any criminal activity after an investigation.
Cochran spokesman Jordan Russell told the National Review before the investigation concluded that the McDaniel campaign is “full of criminals,” between the latest finger pointing and allegations last month that McDaniel supporters broke into a nursing home to videotape the senator’s infirm wife.
"They cannot keep themselves out of trouble with the law," Russell said. "This is a campaign that is out of control."
While the sheriff's department concluded the ballots weren't tampered with and nothing illegal happened at the courthouse, the controversy has given Cochran’s campaign a new opportunity for offense, overshadowing questions about whether the six-term senator has the momentum to keep going.
“We’ve had two separate criminal investigations into one campaign. Is this the kind of person that we want representing our party?” Russell asked, and he also charged if McDaniel is the eventual nominee, he’ll be “on the national stage embarrassing us.”
Just like the nursing home photos and arrest, McDaniel’s team botched their response to the scandal, giving muddled answers as to who knew what and when, feeding into Cochran’s argument that McDaniel is not who he seems.
If McDaniel does win the runoff, Republicans are concerned he could give Democrats an opening to pick up the seat this fall.
Putting Mississippi into play would be a major boon for Democrats, who are facing difficult odds as they battle to hold on to a fragile six-seat majority.
With centrist former Rep. Travis Childers as their nominee, Democrat hope to pull yet another upset after a fractious GOP primary.
While national Republicans have used plenty of ink blasting the challenger, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Jerry Moran (R-Kans.) told The Hill on Thursday that the committee would ultimately back McDaniel if he makes it through the primary.
But he admitted that “it is just a much clearer race with Sen. Cochran” in the general.
And Cochran might yet get by with a little help from his friends.
Republicans who previously helped fill Cochran’s primary coffers told The Hill they’re going all in for him again as the two face off in a runoff in three weeks.
Their support will be pivotal as Cochran looks to refill his depleted campaign coffers for what’s expected to be a nasty and expensive campaign.
National conservative groups spent more than $5 million backing McDaniel in the primary and have indicated they’ll go as far as necessary to deliver him a win. The Club for Growth has indicated they're all in for the runoff, and FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe said the group plans to "double down" in support of McDaniel.