The mudslinging in the Mississippi Senate primary, where tea-party groups think they have the best shot at picking off an incumbent senator, continues unabated as polls from insurgent groups show the race tightening.
The arrest on Friday of a blogger for illegally taping Senator Thad Cochran’s wife for a hit video that was temporarily posted on the Internet has upended an already rancorous race. McDaniel accused the six-term senator on Wednesday of slandering him and, in an open letter, argued that the campaign has become “an embarrassment to our great state.” Cochran, meanwhile, is accusing McDaniel of breaching his ethical duties as a member of the Mississippi bar.
Now, McDaniel is demanding satisfaction, telling Cochran that if he is “inclined to cast aspersions on my honor and integrity” then he should do so “to my face in a debate forum.” Cochran has refused to debate the tea-party insurgent and has already said that, despite the challenge, he has no plans to do so ahead of the June 3 primary.
Polls from the tea-party group Citizens United and from McDaniel’s pollster, WPA Opinion Research, have shown him pulling ahead of Cochran in recent days by single digits.
The insults are flying in the wake of the Cochran campaign’s attempts to tie McDaniel to the illegal video by questioning when the campaign, and McDaniel himself, learned about the arrest of the blogger, Clayton Kelly. That’s a subject on which McDaniel has not been entirely clear, initially saying that he was briefed on the matter early Saturday but pleading ignorance to the Hill later that day. The campaign later clarified that McDaniel was briefed, but not fully, early Saturday, and received a comprehensive briefing only later in the day.
McDaniel also stumbled in his attempt to acquit himself with Mississippi radio talk-show host Paul Gallo. When his campaign manager called to brief him early Saturday, he told Gallo, “I said, ‘Look, stop right there,’ I said, ‘You know our campaign’s position in regards to this.’” Pressed on whether he was apprised of Kelly’s arrest, McDaniel appeared to get tripped up. “Let me finish, okay, and I can explain this.” He went on to say that he told his campaign manager that he wanted to wake up, shower, and travel to a craft fair before he received a full briefing, and that until then he knew only of “an issue with Miss Cochran.”
Gallo was incredulous: “It’s like the Watergate break-in and you’re not . . .” He trailed off.
Meanwhile, the investigation into the origins of the video continues. Kelly’s attorney and his wife told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger that “anonymous Internet forces” put him up to it; he was charged Sunday with the exploitation of a vulnerable adult. “The video was up for about an hour and a half when Clayton received word, either through Facebook or the phone, I’m not sure, that ‘the big man,’ meaning Chris McDaniel, wanted it taken down,” Kelly’s wife said. “The exact words, I remember Clayton told me, were ‘the big man himself says take it down.’ Clayton was already going to take it down but did so at that time.”
The Cochran campaign has accused McDaniel of breaching his ethical duties as an attorney by failing to report the existence of the video to authorities. “Senator McDaniel has an ethical obligation under the Professional Rules of Conduct for Mississippi attorneys to inform the proper authorities if they have any knowledge of a crime taking place.”
The Hill reported that the Cochran campaign knew of the video for weeks before alerting Cochran, who is also a lawyer, and consulting with an attorney, but Cochran campaign spokesman Jordan Russell says that’s not the case. Like the McDaniel campaign, the Cochran campaign learned of the video the day it was posted. ”We had the video for a few days, brought it to Senator Cochran, and he immediately retained counsel,” Russell says. “At that point the investigation was turned over to the attorneys and they dealt with law enforcement.”