7/2/2014 6:00:00 AM County supplies Cochran with 400 additional votes
By JONATHAN WEISMAN and CONOR BELL
The long and bitter Republican primary fight between Sen. Thad Cochran and his Tea Party challenger descended into accusations and countercharges over voter fraud Friday, with the defeated candidate, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, making clear he would not accept the results anytime soon.
The escalating feud raised the prospect that a seething bloc of conservative voters could sit out the November election, improving the chances of the long-shot Democratic candidate, Travis Childers.
Neshoba County voters delivered Cochran 400 more votes in the June 24 run-off.
A tragic note was introduced into the intraparty fight Friday when a Tea Party leader committed suicide. The man, Mark Mayfield, had been accused of being part of a conspiracy to photograph Rose Cochran, Cochran's wife, in the Mississippi nursing home where she lives.
Mayfield, a lawyer and a leader of the Central Mississippi Tea Party, had been arrested last month and charged with conspiring to break in to the room of Rose Cochran, who has dementia.
"This is an election, but an election shouldn't cost a life," said Grant Sowell, a leader of the Tupelo Tea Party, who was informed of the suicide Friday morning.
Mayfield's lawyer, Merrida Coxwell, said his client had faced little chance of being convicted, let alone of being sentenced to jail. But the arrest "was more than he could stand," he said.
"Sadly, Mark may have taken his own life, but that lies at the feet of some other people," Coxwell said. "They will have to explain that."
Mayfield's suicide added to the drama in the race between Cochran, a courtly six-term incumbent, and McDaniel, a firebrand Tea Party favorite, which appeared to have ended Tuesday with Cochran's narrow runoff victory.
Feelings ran unusually high during the primary and runoff campaigns, which were marked by incidents unusual by any political standards. Besides the nursing home break-in, there was the strange phone call to the police in the early morning hours after the June 3 primary from McDaniel aides and supporters who had locked themselves in the Hinds County Courthouse in Jackson, the state capital, which is a Cochran stronghold.
McDaniel and his supporters are exploring legal options to contest Cochran's victory, zeroing in on the Cochran campaign's efforts to bring blacks and other Democratic voters to the polls Tuesday.
The McDaniel camp charged that a partial review of the tallies in Hinds County had turned up nearly 1,000 ballots that were cast by voters who participated in the Democratic primary June 3 and were ineligible under state law to vote in the Republican runoff. McDaniel aides said supporters were reviewing ballots across the state, although they have met resistance in about half of the counties they have approached.
Pete Perry, the Hinds County Republican Party chairman, said the McDaniel campaign's claims were "wildly exaggerated." In the Jackson precinct at Fondren Presbyterian Church, he said, the McDaniel campaign charged that 192 illegal votes had been cast by people who voted in the Democratic primary. But, he said, only 37 Democrats voted there June 3.
"Instead of making wild accusations which stir up social media with cries of fraud and corruption, it would be much better for all involved - the voters, the candidates, the 500 poll workers in Hinds County - if we let facts enter into the conversation," said Perry, a Neshoba County native.
An aide said the search for irregularities would continue until McDaniel had the facts to decide whether to contest the results in court. Mississippi law does not allow for a recount, but a judge could order a new vote. And one of the outside conservative groups that bankrolled McDaniel's campaign, the Madison Project, said it was standing by the candidate.
"Dirty political tricks are one thing, but if irregular and illegal voting events took place, that is a completely separate matter, and the people of Mississippi deserve straight answers," the group's leader, Drew Ryun, said Friday.
The chances of a new election are remote.
National Democratic officials had hoped that McDaniel would triumph Tuesday, believing that Childers, a former House member from Northeast Mississippi, could beat such an incendiary candidate. But Childers said the bitterness of the fight could play even more to his advantage.
Mayfield's suicide adds another wrinkle. Charles C. Johnson, a conservative writer in Los Angeles, took to Twitter, saying, "Let's be honest here: The NRSC's operatives killed Mayfield with lies about his character," a reference to the National Republican Senatorial Committee. The committee ardently supported Cochran.
Friends say Mayfield sank into depression after his arrest.
"Here's a guy who has a great life, is well respected and liked by everybody, and all of the sudden, his life changed dramatically," Sowell, the Tupelo Tea Party leader, said. "Everyone assumed he was guilty."
In complete, but uncertified returns for Neshoba County, the incumbent polled 1,900 votes, or 54.21 percent, and the challenger received 1,605, or 45.79 percent.
Voters who did not have an acceptable photo I.D. had until 5 p.m. on Tuesday to provide the Circuit Clerk's office with one.
Stanley Salter, the chairman of the Industrial Development Authority of Neshoba County, said Tuesday that Cochran had done an "awful lot" for Neshoba County and the adjoining area and he was looking ford to the next six years and what he would accomplish should he win a seventh term in the general election in November.
Certified returns for Neshoba County from the June 3 first primary gave Cochran 1,533 votes, McDaniel 1,355 votes and Thomas L. Carey, 29.
The six-term Senator will face former Rep. Travis Childers for a seventh term in the Nov 4 general election.
In the Third District Democratic run-off race for U. S. House of Representatives, Douglas MacArthur (D.M.) Magee who had 52.4 percent defeated Dennis Quinn who only had 47.6 in complete, but uncertified returns.
In Neshoba County, Quinn, tallied 164 votes or 51.25 percent; and Magee, 150 votes or 46.88 percent.
Magee will face Republican nominee incumbent Gregg Harper.
Nearly 22.4 percent of the county's 16,425 registered voters cast ballots on June 24. This number was up from the June 3 primary. That included 148 Republican absentee ballots and five Democrat absentee ballots.
Election Commissioner Harold Reynolds said the number of absentee ballots was up from the first primary, which saw about 120 voting early.
Salter said Cochran has "done an awful lot for this area especially in the area of education. For Mississippi to improve itself in any manner, it starts with education and Cochran has made sure it has been funded."
He also said the Senator has done much with the county and the state's roads and infrastructure.
Salter said he was "very pleased" with the results of last week's run-off.
"I'm glad to see that he is still there," he said. "It's important we have solid leadership, and I didn't think the alternative had that.
"I would like to be independent from the government in some areas like he [McDaniel] is saying, but I cannot support him because of his views on education," Salter said. "He was not a supporter of education."
Though he remained silent behind the pulpit, a Baptist minister has been very vocal on social media about the heated Senate race.
New Bethel Baptist Church Pastor Curt Pace said he has been a supporter of Chris McDaniel simply because he is not Thad Cochran.
"Cochran represents the insider Washington mentality that is out of touch with the American people," Pace said. "My support was not as much a big Chris fan, but because he was not Thad."
He said he never has officially made a political statement in church and has even refused giving an opinion on the Senate race.
"But I'm a private citizen and I have the right to make an opinion," Pace said.
The minister was especially opinionated on Facebook about the topic of the Cochran photo scandal.
He posted: "If I was Senator Cochran, I wouldn't be pushing this story. It has brought to light that he has his wife in a nursing home in Mississippi while he lives with his female assistant in D.C. Maybe that's why it took him three weeks to report the crime."
Pace said he was disappointed when McDaniel lost the June 24 run-off and believes some of the votes were illegal.
He, again, returned to Facebook where he posted Isaiah 14:24 which says, "The Lord of Hosts has sworn: As I have purposed, so it will be; as I have planned it, so it will happen."
Jonathan Weisman is of The New York Times. Conor Bell is a Democrat staff reporter.