JACKSON — Records show conservative Republican U.S. Senate candidate Chris McDaniel voted as a Democrat in the 2003 state primary.
McDaniel and others question the accuracy of the records and accuse Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, a potential opponent, of using state resources for “opposition research” on McDaniel.
Hosemann denies this and said McDaniel is trying to deflect attention from his voting record.
McDaniel has said he was inspired as a teenager by Ronald Reagan to become a lifelong Republican. Republican Hosemann is thought by many to be waiting in the wings to run for the U.S. Senate seat, should incumbent Thad Cochran not seek re-election.
Computerized voting records kept by the secretary of state’s office show McDaniel voted in the statewide Democratic primary in 2003, and he appears to have not voted in some big Republican elections, including the 2008 GOP presidential/congressional primary.
McDaniel, a Republican state senator from Ellisville in Jones County, says he does not recall voting in such a primary.
When first asked, on Monday, about his voting record, McDaniel said: “I have never voted in a Democratic primary. I’ve only missed a couple of votes in my life, like when I had the flu. . That’s just people being desperate and tacky. I don’t remember voting ever in a Democratic primary. . I was absolutely voting in the Republican primary. I remember Haley (Barbour) was running for governor against a lawyer in Jackson.”
On Tuesday, McDaniel’s campaign spokesman Keith Plunkett said it is possible McDaniel voted in the 2003 Democratic primary but only because, back then, most Jones County officials and candidates were Democrats and McDaniel would have wanted to vote for local offices. Plunkett said McDaniel has worked for years to help convince local Jones County officials to switch parties, and now most are Republican.
Jones County Circuit Clerk Bart Gavin said it is possible that clerk’s office workers — before his taking office — keyed wrong information into the statewide computer system listing McDaniel as voting Democratic in the 2003 primary. But the records that would show for sure, poll books from back then, have been destroyed. Clerks are required to keep them for only two years.
Gavin said an employee of the secretary of state showed up at the courthouse in Jones County on Tuesday wanting to view poll books and McDaniel’s voting records. He said the McDaniel campaign had asked him the day before to look up the records, but Monday was a holiday.
Gavin said he hadn’t yet arrived to help the man, and before he did, Hosemann called an election commissioner.
“Delbert called one of my election commissioners and complained I wasn’t giving his man the information he needed,” Gavin said. “When I got here, I gave him what we had.”
Plunkett said it appears Hosemann was using an employee to do political work at taxpayer expense, which would be a violation of state law.
“The fact that Secretary Hosemann is looking at running for United States Senate for this race is very well known,” Plunkett said. “That he would participate in that kind of opposition research is politically distasteful. But when you use your office and send a member of your executive team paid by taxpayers to do this against one of your potential political opponents, that’s when it becomes less distasteful and more illegal. . I think Secretary Hosemann has to answer to that.”
Hosemann said his employee, Nathan Upchurch, was taking a leave day, and “I don’t keep up with what my employees do on their time off.” He said he did get word at some point that Upchurch was being told the clerk wasn’t there and no one could help him, so he called an election commissioner he knows to see if she could help.
“The real question here is why doesn’t Chris (McDaniel) want people looking at his voting record?” Hosemann said. “When (The Clarion-Ledger) requested the records, I looked at them, and they show he voted Democrat when Haley Barbour, Amy Tuck, Tate Reeves and Stacey Pickering were running in the Republican Primary. They also show he didn’t vote in the presidential election in 2004 — when Bush was running — and didn’t vote in the Republican Primary in 2008.
“His real issue is his voting record, not whether someone was looking at records that are open and available to the public,” Hosemann said.