Tea Party candidate weighs legal options

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Sen. Thad Cochran’s (R-Miss.) primary challenger Chris McDaniel is looking into possible legal routes to challenge Cochran’s runoff win

Multiple sources tell The Hill that the campaign is evaluating their options after Cochran orchestrated an improbable win over McDaniel on Tuesday night, defeating the challenger by about 6,300 votes.

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The campaign’s concerns hinge on heavily African-American Hinds County, which includes the state capital of Jackson and where nearly 70 percent of the residents are black, and the voting population is more Democratic than most counties in the state. Cochran netted about 7,000 more votes there in the runoff than the first round of primary voting.

Cochran won the county during the first round of primary voting by a sizable margin, but the significantly increased turnout there this time around helped his lead. 

More voters in Hinds County backed Cochran in the runoff — 17,927 — than the total number that turned out in the first round of GOP primary voting (16,640). Turnout increased by about 50 percent from the primary to the runoff, and Cochran expanded his portion of the vote from 66 percent to 72 percent. 

That difference of 7,000 more votes than what he netted in the June 4 primary was critical to his slim margin of victory statewide. McDaniel picked up about 1,300 more votes from the primary to the runoff in Hinds County.

McDaniel seemed to hint at the likelihood of a legal challenge in a speech to supporters after The Associated Press called the race for Cochran.

“Before this race is over, we have to make absolutely certain the Republican primary was won by Republican voters,” McDaniel said.

“Today the conservative movement took a backseat to liberal Democrats in the state of Mississippi,” said the state senator, adding, “there were literally dozens of irregularities,” and “you know why.” 

Cochran’s team made no secret of their efforts to turn African-American Democratic voters out to the polls in the runoff, but the move drew heavy criticism from conservatives, some of who have charged such a tactic might be illegal. 

Mississippi election law allows Democrats who did not vote in the first primary round to vote in the GOP runoff, but conservatives backing McDaniel have argued the law prevents voters from supporting a candidate in the primary that they don’t plan to back in the general election.

That portion of the law is difficult to enforce, however, so it’s unclear how McDaniel’s campaign will challenge the ballot count.

McDaniel’s team suggested Hinds County GOP Chairman Pete Perry might be at fault. 

Perry was paid by pro-Cochran Mississippi Conservatives PAC to conduct unspecified get-out-the-vote efforts for Cochran, a move that raised questions about a potential conflict of interest between Perry’s duties as county GOP chairman and his work for the Cochran campaign.

Perry was later accused by Mississippi Democratic Party Chairman Ricky Cole of possibly paying an African-American Democratic political operative thousands of dollars to be used in a vote-buying scheme to turn out African-American Democrats for Cochran in the runoff.

When contacted by The Hill, Perry denied any wrongdoing.

“I did not do anything wrong. My party ran the primary. We did not do anything wrong, period,” Perry said, and then hung up the phone abruptly.