Cochran backer stands by racially tinged Mississippi ads

Missouri Republican Party Chairman Ed Martin’s move to censure Henry Barbour over what he’s called “racist” ads run in the Mississippi Senate race has fizzled, but Martin said Thursday he doesn’t believe the issue has been decided.

“I don’t think we can stop the discussion, until we’ve agreed or disagreed on what the limits are. I just don't know how it ends,” he told The Hill.

ADVERTISEMENT
Martin has been an outspoken critic of Barbour’s role in funding a group, All Citizens for Mississippi, that ran racially tinged ads supporting Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) in his primary fight with state Sen. Chris McDaniel. A PAC run by Barbour that backed Cochran largely funded the group.

One ad that Martin finds particularly incendiary suggests that “the Tea Party intends to prevent you from voting,” and features a photo of black activists from the 1960s, superimposed with a shot of McDaniel.

Cochran ultimately won the primary runoff by 7,667 votes, in part by aggressively courting African-American Democrats to turn out for the senator.

Martin said he knows very little about McDaniel and isn't engaged on the issue because he wants to sway the outcome of the race — which still remains somewhat murky. McDaniel has refused to concede, charging that Cochran "stole" the election by courting illegitimate Democratic voters. While his efforts have drawn support from a number of conservative groups that agree with McDaniel, some in Mississippi and the RNC believe he's doing more harm than good as the Mississippi GOP gears up for its general election fight.

Barbour told The Hill Thursday he stands by the contents of the ads.

“We did make a contribution to [the] group for efforts to engage in the African-American community, and they made a decision to run some ads. And certainly I didn’t approve the ads, but I don’t have a problem with a word that’s in 'em, and I think their message reflects what was going on on the ground in Mississippi in the primary and the runoff,” Barbour said.

Martin initially called on Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus to investigate the ads, and when that request went nowhere, he planned to censure Barbour at the committee’s summer meeting in Chicago this week.

He submitted two resolutions of censure, one directly relating to Barbour and another declaring that “the Republican National Committee will terminate any contract or agreement and also censure any consultant, employee, committee member or other Republican who has a role in conduct similar to that observed” in the primary. Martin told The Hill he took issue, in part, with the vendor that produced the ads.

But not a single member would motion to hear either of Martin’s resolutions during the RNC’s Resolutions Committee meeting Wednesday.

Martin said he had privately received some encouragement from members, but many hadn’t seen the ads and were newly interested after hearing from him Thursday.

But he also suggested the disinterest in taking up the issue was indicative of a broader problem within the RNC’s ranks.

“If you were able to get a bunch of the RNC members, maybe off the record, they would tell you that it can be a climate where, if you disagree with what the sort of leadership wants, it can be costly and it can be difficult,” he said. “That’s something I hope we can get better and better at.”

Instead, RNC members discussed the situation at their members-only meeting on Thursday, Barbour and Martin said, a discussion both described as positive but one that Martin said wasn’t an end to the conversation.

“It is what it is, but it’s time to move on,” Barbour said, when asked whether Martin’s move to censure him had distracted from general election preparations in Mississippi.

Barbour said the members-only discussion was “healthy,” and that he planned to continue the conversation during a one-on-one meeting with Martin over coffee on Friday morning.

“Hopefully we’ll talk about what happened in Mississippi and how we can move on from this disagreement, and with a focus on making sure we make Harry Reid the minority leader in November.”

Martin, too, called the members-only meeting an “extraordinary conversation,” but pushed back on reports he had apologized for his attempt to censure Barbour, and clarified that he had opened his remarks during the morning meeting with a prayer asking for forgiveness when any member “falls short.”

But he said he still feels strongly that the decision to run the ads was the wrong one, and the discussion within the party concerning those tactics needs to continue.

“I believe that the ads that were run by [the group] are way beyond the pale of Republicans. And I believe that, if we are a party that stands on its principles and on morality, and we care about people, then this is unacceptable. These are smear tactics that are beneath us, and as I’ve said to people at this meeting, I think it’s morally wrong, but I also think it’s very very bad politics,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the RNC declined to comment on the disagreement between the two.

More in Campaign

‘Hail Mary’ Landrieu falls flat

Read more »