Chris McDaniel, the Mississippi Tea Party hero who lost his runoff election to longtime Republican Senator Thad Cochran in late June, is convinced that the incumbent must have cheated his way into a primary victory. McDaniel, who ran far to the right of Cochran, is now offering $1,000 for anyone who can provide his campaign with evidence of voter fraud. The McDaniel campaign has accused Cochran of buying the votes of black Democrats in the state.
McDaniel's new "Election Integrity Challenge" will pay "for evidence leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone involved in voter fraud on or leading up to the June 24, 2014, Republican primary runoff election in Mississippi," the campaign announced in a fundraising email on Thursday. McDaniel is also fundraising off of the challenging, asking for $15 donations from his supporters — the same amount of money that McDaniel's camp believes Cochran's campaign paid voters to go to the polls. He will pay up to $15 bounties of $1000 for the requested evidence.
The vote-buying conspiracy theory that McDaniel based his allegations on comes from a blog post from a single conservative blogger, Charles C. Johnson, who paid a pastor in the state to talk on the record about a deal he allegedly had with the Cochran campaign. Rev. Stevie Fielder claimed that the campaign offered to pay him each time he bought the vote of a black resident of Mississippi. However, the Cochran campaign clarified to the Clarion-Journal that it had hired Fielder to do pretty standard get-out-the-vote work. And that the evidence the pastor provided to Johnson detailing Cochran campaign requests for names and addresses were pretty standard record keeping required for FEC filings for campaigns. Plus, there are other ways that Fielder's version of events doesn't hold up.
Cochran's campaign was pretty open about its strategy to recruit non-Republicans, including black Democrats, to help vote for the incumbent in the run-off elections. They had no reason to conceal that strategy: it's perfectly legal in Mississippi for a member of another party to vote in a Republican primary runoff, so long as that voter didn't participate in the first round of voting. But McDaniel has refused to back down from his conviction that Cochran somehow broke the law with this strategy, leading to an increasingly bizarre series of events as his supporters rally behind the Tea Partier. Yesterday, a Cochran press call to discuss the allegations devolved into an argument when a group of McDaniel supporters crashed the call. One participant asked the Cochran campaign to explain why "If black people were harvesting cotton, why is it OK to harvest their votes?"