WASHINGTON — In a fresh sign of Republican turmoil, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, tea party groups and losing challenger Chris McDaniel all backed an investigation yesterday into the June 24 Senate primary runoff in Mississippi, without offering evidence of alleged voter fraud they cited in the bitterly fought race.
One day after Sen. Thad Cochran was certified the primary winner by the state Republican Party, the denunciations of the 76-year-old lawmaker were particularly vituperative.
The Tea Party Leadership Fund, which claims a membership of 25,000, referred to him as “scum.” An appeal sent by the Madison Project under the name of former Kansas Republican Rep. Jim Ryun labeled the six-term veteran corrupt.
Cruz, a tea party favorite known for his clashes with the GOP establishment, told reporters that allies of Cochran had run racially offensive ads aimed at persuading black voters to cast ballots in the Republican primary.
On Monday evening, he said on a conservative radio program, “The Mark Levin Show,” that “even more troubling is in the past week or so we’ve seen serious allegations of voter fraud. … These allegations need to be vigorously investigated and anyone involved in criminal conduct should be prosecuted.”
McDaniel’s campaign followed with a statement of its own that cited Cruz’ remarks, underscoring the Texas senator’s standing among tea party supporters and potential donors.
The controversy came midway through a campaign year in which the Republican Party nationally has fought hard to prevent a replay of the 2010 and 2012 election campaigns in which they failed to win a Senate majority. In both cases, tea party-backed candidates won Senate primaries over more established and steadier politicians, only to prove unelectable in the fall in races that had appeared winnable for the GOP.
Favored candidates of tea party groups have lost in several primaries in other states. The Mississippi runoff was the bitterest pill to date for them to swallow, since McDaniel led Cochran in the initial June 3 primary. Because neither man won a majority in the three-way race, a runoff was held.
Cochran is the overwhelming favorite to win re-election this fall against former Democratic Rep. Travis Childers. His schedule for the day included an appearance at what the National Republican Senatorial Committee billed as a thank-you reception. Donations were not required but are generally welcomed at events at the campaign organization’s headquarters a few blocks from the Capitol.
At issue in the runoff is an unknown number of votes cast by Mississippians who voted earlier this year in the Democratic primary. Under state law, they are prohibited from doing both. McDaniel and his allies say they suspect they did so anyway, by the thousands, and note an appeal by Cochran and his supporters to black voters in the final days of the race.
At the same time, neither they nor Cruz nor tea party groups have offered documentation of their claims. Nor do McDaniel and his supporters routinely note that state law generally permits voters of one party to cast ballots in primaries of the other. Mississippi voters do not register by party.
Cochran’s campaign said a partial statewide review showed 234 questionable ballots had been cast. “The numbers contained in this review are drastically lower than the wild claims made by the McDaniel campaign,” it said.
Results certified by the state party and submitted to the secretary of state’s office on Monday show Cochran defeated McDaniel by 7,667 votes in the June 24 runoff. Cochran received 194,932 votes and McDaniel received 187,265.
In a related item, a voters’ rights group seeking the release of voter registration data is dropping its lawsuit in Mississippi’s northern federal court district in order to refile it in the southern district.
Texas-based True the Vote, along with 13 Mississippi residents who are also plaintiffs in the lawsuit, moved to withdraw the original lawsuit yesterday.
“Relocating from Oxford to Jackson is a small price to pay for protecting voters’ rights in Mississippi,” group president Catherine Engelbrecht said in a statement Monday.
U.S. District Judge Michael P. Mills, in an order filed Monday, writes that parties to case are mostly in the Jackson area.
“It appears that the decision to file suit in Oxford may have been based upon political calculations, the exact nature of which are unclear to this court,” Mills wrote.
The lawsuit seeks to compel Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann and the Mississippi Republican Party to release poll books without removing any information. A voter signs a poll book right before casting a ballot.
They plaintiffs have said they want a federal court order giving them access to the records and prohibiting the defendants from redacting any information such as birth dates in their effort to weed out crossover voters.
The plaintiffs are looking for people marked as voting in the June 3 Democratic primary and the June 24 Republican runoff. Mississippi voters don’t register by party, but state law bans people from voting in one party’s primary and the other party’s runoff in the same election cycle.
Mills wrote that crossover voting, though it may violate state law, doesn’t appear to break federal law. He also questioned whether the plaintiffs were suing the right people for voting records, indicating that they may need to sue counties, not the state or the state Republican Party.
Hosemann reiterated yesterday his desire to be dismissed or excluded from any lawsuit.
“The federal court has indicated the case against the state of Mississippi was ill conceived, incoherent, misguided, poorly drafted, filed in the wrong court and probably politically motivated,” Hosemann said in a statement. “We are hopeful the state of Mississippi, and its taxpayers who are footing the bill, will quickly be dismissed from this litigation.”
Mississippi Republican Party Chairman Joe Nosef has said his party also wants out of any lawsuit.