A conference call held by Sen. Thad Cochran's campaign quickly devolved into chaos and ended Wednesday after one of the participants repeatedly asked racially charged questions.
The call was held to address a lawsuit challenging the runoff results for the Republican nomination. Cochran defeated his primary challenger, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, by 6,700 votes last week, but McDaniel has refused to concede and his supporters allege Cochran won with the help of illegal votes.
The call was held for the national media who could not be at a news conference in Jackson. But 5 minutes after it started, there were 67 people on the call, and at least 10 more joined later.
Austin Barbour, a Cochran campaign adviser, was giving examples of why the campaign felt the charges of double-voting — people who voted in the Democratic primary and then voted for Cochran in the Republican primary runoff — were wrong.
"If they want to file a challenge, we've got no problem with that whatsoever," Barbour said of the McDaniel campaign. But, he went on, "the time has certainly come in our minds for the McDaniel campaign and their allies to either put up or shut up."
That person repeatedly said that "black people harvested cotton" and accused the Cochran campaign of "harvesting black votes." Barbour asked him to stop multiple times, saying he would answer questions from anyone at the end of his statement.
The conference call line did not give the Cochran campaign the ability to mute callers' lines, so there was no way to force the caller to stop speaking.
"I'm happy to address any question, no matter the lunacy of it," he said.
But the man on the line, who did not identify himself, could not be placated. Finally, Barbour apologized and announced he was ending the call, telling national press that they had the contact information for the campaign if they had any questions.
At that point, someone who was possibly a reporter, interrupted to try to keep Barbour on the line. Barbour cut the line.
With the Cochran campaign people gone, callers on the line broke into an argument — a woman berated the man who had interrupted. The man defended himself, saying he had a legitimate question. More people got into the argument and began discussing the identity of the caller asking the "cotton" question.
Someone asked if it was Charles Johnson, a conservative blogger who has been loudly alleging the Cochran campaign paid for voters. A woman on the call said it was not him. Johnson has been open in his support for McDaniel. He tweeted the call-in number 15 minutes before the call started, asking people to join him in crashing it.
Thirty minutes after the call ended, the call line was still open. Someone was using a soundboard of President Barack Obama's voice saying "Hey! What's up?" Someone else was playing the audio from the movie "Animal House."
Evidently there were still a number of people on the line, this reporter included, just waiting to see what would happen next.
"If someone would play 'Let it Go,' I bet everybody would get off the phone," a man opined.
No one took him up on it.
Colin Diersing contributed to this report.
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