Tea-party candidate Chris McDaniel is looking for volunteers to help in what is shaping up to be a monumental showdown with Mississippi's old-line Republican Party machine.
The embattled U.S. Senate candidate sent out an email blast late Friday night asking supporters for their help in his challenge to Tuesday's runoff election loss to six-term incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran. The runoff election, in which McDaniel lost by less than 6,800 votes, has become a microcosm of the nationwide war within the Republican Party between tea-party reformers and establishment Republicans.
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"On June 3rd we won the popular vote," McDaniel said in the email sent out to tea-party supporters about 10:15 p.m. Friday with the subject line "Help me."
"On June 24th we won the Republican primary election," the email read. "As you might have heard, we're not quite done. We are in the process of trying to ensure a fair and accurate election took place on Tuesday. And we need your help."
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McDaniel asked those wanted to get involved in his fight to email their name, city, phone number and email address to [email protected].
"Our team will then direct you on what you can do to help us in this battle to ensure the integrity of our election process here in Mississippi," the email stated.
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McDaniel was the top vote getter in the June 3 primary but did not reach the 50 percent benchmark required to avoid a runoff. Cochran edged him out by a razor-thin margin in the runoff, thanks in large part to Democrat crossover votes.
McDaniel supporters use words like "stolen" and "underhanded" to describe Cochran's runoff strategy.
McDaniel's campaign said it is finding significant evidence of voter irregularities in Tuesday's election and is mulling legal options.
Noel Fritsch, communications director for the McDaniel campaign, said the campaign is in heavy-duty research mode right now and will be making a decision soon on whether to file legal action.
"We're examining all the data we are able to get a hold of, but we are having a hard time getting all of the data we need right now because about half of the circuit clerks are not cooperating with our requests," Fritsch told WND. "Despite that, based on the data we do have, we have found a lot that is heartening for us. Our preliminary findings certainly indicate that a thorough examination is warranted."
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He said that as soon as the campaign has completed the research phase, "we will decide at such time whether any legal action will be taken."
Asked if legal action may be needed to get the cooperation of so many unwilling clerks, Fritsch did not hesitate.
"It may be," he said.
If McDaniel goes that route, he could be expected to focus on Hinds County, a majority black county where voter turnout increased by 49.57 percent in the runoff compared to the initial primary, according to a report by the Clarion Ledger of Jackson. Almost all of those additional votes went to Cochran. Hinds County is 69.8 percent black.
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"In Hinds, Cochran won 7K more votes than in primary. McDaniel won 1K more. Expect Hinds County to be ground zero for challenge," tweeted Sam Hall, political reporter for the Clarion Ledger.
Voter turnout was up 16 percent from the primary overall, and Cochran made gains in several counties with large black populations, including Madison (38.6 percent black), Forrest (36.7 percent black) and Rankin (19.6 percent black).
The approach used to get black voters to vote in the Republican runoff included blatant scare tactics, such as spreading rumors that if McDaniel were elected, the tea party would prevent blacks from voting in future elections.
A pro-Cochran Democratic group called All Voters for Mississippi was one of the main culprits. The group circulated a flyer among black church members with title "The Tea Party Intends to Prevent You from Voting," followed by, "We need to vote Thad Cochran on Tuesday, June 24th," and, "We've come this far, we can't go back now!"
Analysts weigh in
Several voices have credited Democrats with pulling out the win for Cochran, the 76-year-old Washington insider who outspent his opponent by several million dollars.
In an article headlined, "It looks like African-Americans really did help Thad Cochran win," Harry Enten, senior political writer and analyst for FiveThirtyEight.com, posted an analysis saying Cochran would have lost by eight points, or approximately 25,000 votes, if black voters hadn't crossed over to vote for him.
"Partisan voting patterns are so tied to race in Mississippi that both lead us to the same conclusion. It's clear that Cochran's vote increases were correlated to the percentage of African-Americans who live in each county," Enten wrote. "The 10 counties where the incumbent senator improved most were those where blacks make up 69 percent or more of the population."
The question for McDaniel's lawyers will be: Can they find evidence that a portion of the 38,000 additional votes cast in the runoff for Cochran were fraudulent?
In an interview with Sean Hannity Thursday night, McDaniel indicated he didn't think that would be a problem. Not in a race decided by less than 6,800 votes.
He told Hannity his people have already found more than 1,000 cases of voter irregularities in just one county. So it's not out of the question that they could find more than 6,800 ineligible voters statewide.
One issue that will be inspected closely is whether Democrats who voted in the Republican runoff Tuesday had already voted in the Democratic primary on June 3. Mississippi law allows voters of one party to cross over and vote in the other party's primary runoff, but only if they didn't vote in the original primary for their own party.
'Race-baiting' and other dirty tricks
McDaniel said Cochran used "race-baiting, lies and distortions," to push out the Democrat vote.
"We've found widespread irregularities of ineligible voters that should not have been there in the first place," McDaniel told Hannity. "And they were pushed there – this is what's shocking, Sean – they were pushed there by an overt action, an aggressive action on the part of Sen. Cochran's campaign, that was filled with race-baiting, lies, distortions. He literally ran the latter three weeks on food stamps. He ran on voter suppression and he ran on pork. Mississippi is a conservative state, and one would think that our party was a conservative party, but this proves otherwise."
Do you have an opinion on the battle between the GOP establishment and the tea party? If so, sound off in today's WND poll.
If voter fraud is discovered in Mississippi, it wouldn't be the first time it has happened in a Southern state.
WND broke a story on Oct. 24, 2012, that the son of Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va. – who served as the field director for his father's campaign – was caught on video advising an undercover reporter how to fraudulently cast ballots in the name of registered voters by forging utility bills and relying on the assistance of Democrat lawyers.
James O'Keefe's Project Veritas, known for its hidden-camera probe of the controversial national community organizing group tied to Obama, ACORN, carried out the investigation and provided the video exclusively to WND. After the story was published, Patrick Moran announced his immediate resignation from the Moran for Congress campaign.
Veteran political analyst Richard Viguerie told WND that the Mississippi runoff election just shows that the tea party is gaining strength and is becoming more feared by the Republican establishment.
"Conservatives will never forget the corrupt Republican Establishment Mississippi election," he said. "Every time they pull the kind of tricks they pulled in Mississippi, they just make grassroots conservatives angrier and more committed to change – they are feeding the tea-party revolution, not killing it."
Viguerie, often referred to as the "funding father of the conservative movement" for his pioneering of direct-marketing campaigns, ticked off a laundry list of dirty tricks that Cochran's campaign used to narrowly defeat McDaniel on Tuesday.
Those tricks included race baiting, a last-minute appeal to liberal Democrats, bait-and-switch fundraising and character assaults on McDaniel. He said Mississippi has a long history of campaign corruption.
"There's a long history, particularly in the South, of buying votes," Viguerie said. "In many years gone by, they did it with a pint of liquor. These days, it's known as 'walking around money.' Particularly black preachers, ministers get walking around money that they're supposed to hand out to their precinct captains and their voters to turn out and vote for the chosen candidate."
He advises the McDaniel campaign to "be looking very seriously to see if there was illegal campaign cash passed out."
In his book "Takeover: The 100-Year War for the Soul of the GOP and How Conservatives Can Finally Win It," Richard Viguerie outlines the way to establish limited-government constitutional conservatism as the governing philosophy of the Republican Party and bring sanity back to Congress and the White House.
Wesley Pruden, another longtime political analyst and editor emeritus of the Washington Times, concluded in a June 26 op-ed piece that the victory in Mississippi could cost the Republican establishment considerable collateral over the long run. Pruden saw the handiwork of former Gov. Haley Barbour all over the campaign to keep Cochran in Washington.
"K Street won a big one Tuesday night in Mississippi. … After [Cochran] ran a close second in the preferential primary, he was widely regarded as a dead duck," Pruden wrote. "The men with the most to lose if the senator lost, led by Haley Barbour, the former governor and a big-time Washington lobbyist, went to work."
Whether they acted legally or not, "it was a breathtaking act of betrayal of the people who thought Thad Cochran was an honorable man," he continued. "The black preachers and politicians, Democrats all, now rightly claim credit for saving Cochran from the evil tea-party Republicans, and they're entitled to their reward, such as it may be. They should bear in mind that the senator is not likely to show any more loyalty to them than he has shown to his own party. He will likely disappoint everyone but the lobbyists who used race and resentment to aid his escape from oblivion. If he wants to do the really honorable thing, he would consider switching parties.
"Betrayal is a dangerous game," Pruden concluded. "The gains are nearly always for a shorter term than expected."
Tea-party group wants McDaniel to launch write-in candidacy
Meanwhile, the head of a major tea-party group is encouraging McDaniel to not waste much time trying to challenge the vote.
"McDaniel is considering a legal challenge to the election, but those are rarely won. There is a solution that is a better solution," wrote Judson Phillips of Tea Party Nation in a blog post Wednesday. "The RINO establishment thinks they can use all kinds of underhanded tricks to win. They also think that conservatives will simply accept the results and fall in line."
Phillips then drew inspiration from the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign in 2008.
"There is a term that Hillary Clinton's supporters coined in 2008, after Barack Obama beat her in a nasty primary then called for party unity," he wrote. "It is PUMA or 'party unity my ass.' It is time for a PUMA movement in Mississippi."
Phillips said Cochran and his allies made it clear in the bitterly contested race that the "RINO wing" of the Republican Party will do anything to retain its power, even if it involves working with their friends in the Democratic Party.
"When the Republican Establishment acts like Democrats, what is the point of supporting them?" Phillips asked. "The answer is, we don't have to. Every McDaniel supporter in Mississippi from DeSoto County in the North to Biloxi in the South should stand up today and tell Chris McDaniel that if he runs as a write-in candidate in November, they will support him.
"Cochran was only able to win because of Democrats coming over to vote in the Republican primary. They won't be voting for him in the general election," Phillips said.
Splitting the vote three ways isn't a concern, according to Phillips: "Mississippi is such a red state that even if the vote were split between Cochran, McDaniel and the unknown Democrat, the Democrat would still finish third.
"The Republican Establishment thinks they have fought back an insurrection from conservatives and now we will meekly fall in line in November and support a RINO who needs Democrats to win?" Phillips asked. "Never."
Just hours after the race was called for Cochran, a Facebook page was created with the title, "Write-in campaign for Chris McDaniel."