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5 controversial moments in the Mississippi election

By Jeremy Diamond, CNN
updated 5:42 PM EDT, Thu July 3, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • McDaniel's campaign is offering a $1,000 reward for evidence of voter fraud
  • Allegations of $15 vote-buying, thousands of illegitimate Democratic votes in a single county
  • At least one anonymous caller crashed a Cochran campaign conference call with reporters
  • The Mississippi GOP says it has been wrongly involved in a federal lawsuit

(CNN) -- The Republican Senate primary in Mississippi had long been in the spotlight over nasty politics, but events just prior, during and now after the vote have placed the race in its own unusual category.

Thad Cochran and state Sen. Chris McDaniel squared off months ago in what was viewed as a potential bellwether between the larger fight taking place nationally between the arch conservative tea party and establishment Republicans.

It was cast as youth and fresh ideas against veteran incumbency and politics as usual. Spending was up, ads were intense, and the vote was expected to be close. The general election was considered pro forma in the reliably Republican state. This primary would decide who would go to Washington.

But late in the game, things took a bizarre turn and have gotten more complicated since the June 3 primary resulted in a runoff, which Cochran won three weeks later.

Here are the five most unusual moments:

1. Dirty tricks: In May, three tea party supporters and apparent allies of McDaniel were arrested for conspiring to photograph Cochran's bedridden wife in a hospice in an apparent case of political dirty tricks.

Rose Cochran suffers from dementia and has lived in a nursing home for 14 years. The photo of her surfaced in a political attack ad on YouTube that aimed to smear Cochran, The Mississippi Clarion-Ledger reported.

McDaniel's campaign denied any connection to the matter.

Then, after the runoff, one of those charged with conspiracy in the photo scandal, Mark Mayfield, died in an apparent suicide at his home. It remains under investigation.

2. Crying foul: Separated by less than 1,500 votes following the primary with McDaniel ahead, the two then turned their attention to a runoff won by Cochran with a narrow, but more comfortable margin of nearly 7,000 votes.

McDaniel has cried foul and won't concede.

He furiously contends nearly 5,000 votes should be discounted due to alleged fraud after Cochran and his allies courted African-Americans and other traditional Democrats to push him over the finish line in the crossover tally.

McDaniel camp gathers evidence as it prepares legal challenge

And they're still counting.

McDaniel's campaign and its tea party supporters are making the rounds of all 82 counties to look into voting records and still have a dozen stops to make.

3. $1,000 Reward: On Thursday, McDaniel's campaign announced $1,000 rewards for evidence of voter fraud.

But there's a catch, evidence must lead to "the arrest and conviction" of those involved in any fraud and will be awarded to up to 15 instances.

McDaniel's campaign is fundraising for its legal fund, which will underwrite the bounty.

Two allegations may shed some light as to why McDaniel called the runoff a "sham" in a recent email to supporters.

Steve Fielder, a pastor in Mississippi, alleged the Cochran campaign was offering $15 for voters to support Cochran at the polls. Fielder made the claims in a paid interview with an independent filmmaker.

Another allegation comes from a more official source: the election coordinator for Hinds County Democratic Party official.

Claude McInnis, alleged that the chairman of the county's Republican Party worked with McInnis to allow voters who had voted for a Democrat in the primary to cast a ballot in the runoff -- which is illegal. McInnis told Breitbart News that he'd "guess" about 3,000 votes in Hinds County should be obviated.

4. Call-in crashers: Critics of Cochran's election strategy crashed a call with reporters on Tuesday.

Charles Johnson, a political blogger critical of Cochran's campaign, apparently obtained and subsequently tweeted out the call's dial-in code to his nearly 6,000 followers.

Cacophony ensued when at least one caller repeatedly interrupted campaign spokesman Austin Barbour with a question:

"Since black people harvested cotton, why is it OK to harvest their votes? Why is it OK to harvest the votes of black people?" the caller said.

Barbour offered to answer the anonymous caller's questions along with reporters' inquiries at the end of the call, but the call hijacker persisted.

Just hours before, Barbour slammed the McDaniel campaign during a press conference, urging his opponents to "put up or shut up" with their accusations of voter fraud.

5. Lawsuit: True the Vote, a conservative election watchdog, filed a lawsuit Tuesday in federal court against the Mississippi secretary of state and the state's Republican party calling for full, unrestricted access to voting records.

The state GOP chairman, Joe Nosef, said in a statement that True the Vote's lawsuit is based on a "misunderstanding of both Mississippi law" and the state party's role in the election.

Logan Churchwell, True the Vote's spokesman, said the "lawsuit is filed the way it is" and the group has no plans to remove the Mississippi GOP from the receiving end of the suit.

Churchwell said the state party was included because of the "shared responsibility" between state officials and the state's Republican party.

"We're not singling them out," Churchwell said.

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