McDaniel's Mississippi Senate challenge draws new critics

Cracks continued to appear in Chris McDaniel’s case for continuing to challenge Sen. Thad Cochran’s Mississippi GOP primary runoff win on Tuesday, even as the state senator pursued new legal avenues to obtain access to election results.

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On Thursday of last week, McDaniel filed suit against the Rankin County Circuit Clerk, alleging she was illegally barring access to the county’s poll books.

But a new poll Tuesday showed a majority of Mississippians believe Cochran won the June 24 primary fair and square, and McDaniel should concede. That same day, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Club for Growth President Chris Chocola said it wasn’t quite “clear” to him what evidence the candidate had that any voter fraud took place.

“McDaniel is going to have to make a decision at some point in how far he pursues this,” Chocola said. “If there’s clearly evidence of wrongdoing, that there were ballot integrity issues I suppose it would be appropriate for him to pursue those, but it would have to be clear. I don’t know that they’re clear at this point.”

While the Club was McDaniel’s biggest supporter financially in the primary, the conservative group endorsed Cochran after he was declared the winner in the runoff.

And Hinds County Republican Party Chairman Pete Perry, who was personally supportive of Cochran and paid for campaign services at one point by a pro-Cochran group, said at a press conference there were only 300 to 350 questionable votes in his county.

That’s a stark contrast to the McDaniel campaign’s claim they’ve found 1,500 illegitimate ballots in that county alone.

McDaniel is planning a Wednesday press conference to detail a total 8,300 questionable ballots his staff and volunteers say they’ve found after poring over the ballots over the past three weeks.

Despite Cochran’s 7,667-vote lead in the runoff, McDaniel has refused to concede and is alleging Cochran’s campaign “stole” the election, in part by recruiting African American Democrats to turn out for the senator in the runoff.

Under Mississippi election law, residents who cast ballots in one party’s primary are barred from voting in the opposing party’s runoff. McDaniel’s campaign has said that the majority of the questionable ballots they’ve found are examples of just that, illegitimate crossover voters.

But he's begun to draw detractors even from within the conservative movement as his crusade drags into its third week. Conservative commentator Ann Coulter counseled him to give up the fight in an op-ed last week.

The survey out Tuesday from Democratic firm Public Policy Polling punctured further holes in his case, revealing 58 percent of Mississippi voters believe Cochran was the rightful winner of the primary, and 50 percent think McDaniel should concede.

That same poll shows if McDaniel won the GOP nomination, he'd deliver Republicans their nightmare scenario and leave Democrats an opening. He runs nearly even in a general election matchup with Democrat Travis Childers and Reform Party candidate Shawn O'Hara, taking 36 percent to Childers' 37 percent and O'Hara's 4 percent support.

Cochran, however, holds a strong lead in the general election, taking 40 percent to Childers' 24 percent support.

The survey does indicate Cochran has some work to do to shore up his base. He's underwater in terms of approval with Republicans, though Democrats widely approve of his job performance, and 37 percent of Republicans are undecided on a general election matchup.

The survey was conducted among 691 Mississippi voters from July 10-13 via landline and cell phone, and has an overall margin of error of 3.7 percentage points.