Attorneys for state Sen. Chris McDaniel said Wednesday they have sufficient evidence to challenge the results of Mississippi's Republican Senate runoff — which McDaniel lost to Sen. Thad Cochran last month — and expect to do so in the next 10 days.
"We’ve heard it our entire life in Mississippi," McDaniel campaign attorney Mitch Tyner said at a press conference in Jackson. "Votes are being bought. Ballot boxes are being stuffed. ... Personally, I’m 51 years old, it’s the first time I saw it up close and personal. And it exists. And we are committed to finding it and rooting it out and stopping it."
Cochran was declared the winner of the June 24 primary runoff by a margin of 7,667 votes. McDaniel has refused to concede, and his campaign is now reviewing the voting records in all 82 counties of Mississippi. Tyner and Republican state Sen. Michael Watson, an attorney assisting the McDaniel campaign, declined to provide the specific number of questionable ballots they've found during their review. Tyner said they plan to be "mature" about it and not "do a tit for tat with the Cochran campaign," which has released specific numbers as it conducted a review of its own.
The McDaniel campaign previously claimed they had found 8,300 questionable ballots; The Cochran campaign put the number at 900 in their most recent statement.
Strangely, before Tyner stepped forward, Watson took great pains at the outset to make clear filing a challenge was not a foregone conclusion.
"This is not a challenge right now," Watson said. Instead, it's "a look under the hood."
"That may come," he said of a challenge, "but that day is not here right now." Beyond that, he said, "If Chris does not find enough evidence to mount a challenge to this election, he won’t do it."
The press conference had something of a church service feel, with a group of McDaniel supporters not visible on WJTV's online live stream echoing and cheering in response to the attorneys, who painted McDaniel's determination as noble and entirely unselfish.
"Everybody knows that he could have conceded and written his ticket for any office next year," Tyner said. "But Chris McDaniel said 'No. I want to root out the problems, I want integrity in this process, and if it destroys my political career, so be it.'"
The two accused the Cochran campaign of "race-baiting" and said they single-handedly "took Mississippi back 50 years in race relations." Black state senators, Tyner said, had become uncomfortable interacting with Watson, who is white, in the aftermath of the campaign.
The Cochran campaign, looking to move on to the general, responded at a press conference of its own in Jackson. Cochran senior adviser Austin Barbour scoffed at the McDaniel campaign's posturing. "Their only issue is they didn't win on June 24," he said.
He attacked the McDaniel campaign for not releasing specific numbers to back up their claims.
"Sadly," Barbour said, "with the lack of evidence, they fill that gap with rhetoric, grandstanding and fundraising appeals."