JACKSON — Unsuccessful tea party-backed candidate Chris McDaniel is invoking a big Mississippi political name as he tries to revive his challenge in a U.S. Senate race: state House Speaker Philip Gunn.
McDaniel lost to six-term Sen. Thad Cochran in the June 24 Republican primary. Now, the state senator from Jones County is asking the Mississippi Supreme Court for a second chance on a lawsuit that seeks to overturn Cochran’s victory. Winning the legal argument could be difficult in a place with no history of judges ordering a do-over of a statewide election.
In a legal brief filed late Thursday, McDaniel noted that Gunn waited 34 days to challenge a 2003 Republican primary loss to incumbent state Rep. Jep Barbour. Gunn won the court challenge and the election, and he became speaker of the 122-member House in early 2012.
However, in McDaniel’s case, a judge said the candidate failed to meet a 20-day deadline to challenge the loss in a multi-county primary. McDaniel started his challenge 41 days after the primary. Judge Hollis McGehee dismissed McDaniel’s lawsuit.
Cochran’s attorneys said in Jones County Circuit Court last month that the Gunn challenge is not relevant to McDaniel’s case because the timing of Gunn’s filing was not argued as an issue in the court case that became known as Barbour v. Gunn.
McDaniel attorneys Mitch Tyner and Steve Thornton wrote Thursday that if the state Supreme Court was wrong in the way it handled Barbour v. Gunn, “then Speaker Gunn could be removed from his office, since this court’s ruling in that case would be void. … Therefore, the Republican Party’s State Executive Committee’s certification of Jep Barbour as the winner would stand.”
Cochran’s attorneys must file legal briefs to the state Supreme Court by Sept. 24, and justices will hear oral arguments Oct. 2.
Certified results show Cochran defeated McDaniel by 7,667 votes.
Mississippi election officials already have prepared a Nov. 4 general election ballot that lists Cochran as the Republican nominee, former U.S. Rep. Travis Childers as the Democratic nominee and Shawn O’Hara as the Reform Party candidate.
If the Supreme Court overturns McGehee’s dismissal of McDaniel’s lawsuit, McDaniel would then have to prove during a trial that the election was so sloppily run that its outcome could not be known. McDaniel’s lawsuit asked the judge to declare him the winner of the Republican nomination or to order a new runoff. Cochran campaign spokesman Jordan Russell has called McDaniel’s lawsuit “baseless.”
Mississippi law says a new primary could be ordered even after someone wins the general election. If that were to happen, a new general election also would have to be held.
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