JACKSON, Miss. – A super PAC backing six-term Sen. Thad Cochran funded an outside group that urged black voters to support the Republican's re-election bid, according to campaign finance reports.
Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a political giant in his state, backed Mississippi Conservatives and his nephew, Henry Barbour, was a top official there. Mississippi Conservatives sent almost $145,000 to All Citizens for Mississippi, a late-to-arrive group that urged black voters to turn out for the June 24 runoff between Cochran and tea party favorite state Sen. Chris McDaniel.
The Barbour-led group was the sole source of money for that black outreach effort.
"What we were looking for were Cochran supporters who didn't vote," said Brian Perry, the chief at the pro-Cochran super PAC. "When you go back and look at his 2008 general election, he had a lot of support in the black community. These are people who voted for him before and more-than-likely would be voting for him in the general. And so it makes sense to ask them to vote for him in the primary, as well."
Tea party groups objected to the tactic, and claim Cochran prevailed in his runoff with Democrats' backing, at Republicans' expense.
McDaniel on Wednesday is expected to announce whether he will file a formal challenge of his loss to Cochran. Certified results of the June 24 runoff show Cochran won by 7,667 votes.
State law specifies McDaniel's first challenge would be filed with the state Republican Party executive committee. His campaign attorney, Mitch Tyner, has said McDaniel could file a lawsuit in state court about 10 days after filing a challenge with the party.
McDaniel, who became a tea party favorite, has said there might have been thousands of improper votes cast, but he has not released documents to support that claim. The Cochran camp says there might have been hundreds of improper votes statewide, but not enough to overturn the election.
Tea party groups, who spent millions to help in McDaniel's two races against Cochran, urged Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus to step in.
"This is not how Republicans should run primary campaigns against other Republicans," eight national tea party leaders wrote to Priebus. "The Republican National Committee, as the national infrastructure of the GOP, has a responsibility to police its own."
They were seeking an investigation of Henry Barbour, who is in the 168-member Republican National Committee.
In Mississippi, officials from both campaigns continued to scour votes.
Hinds County Republican Party Chairman Pete Perry said Tuesday that 300 to 350 possible illegally cast votes were found in Mississippi's largest county. That total is significantly lower than McDaniel's assertion that at least 1,500 improper votes were found in Hinds County.
McDaniel campaign spokesman Noel Fritsch noted the chairman had received $60,000 from a pro-Cochran political action committee. Pete Perry has acknowledged the payment, saying he used the money to hire people for get-out-the-vote activities that are allowed by state law.
Mississippi voters don't register by party, but state law prohibits a person from voting in one party's primary and the other party's runoff in the same election cycle. Crossover voting is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $200 fine. Convictions, however, are rare.
McDaniel had finished 1,418 votes ahead of Cochran in the June 3 GOP primary, which also included a third candidate who spent little on his election effort.
Turnout increased by 63,295 votes in the runoff. Certified statewide results show Cochran received 51 percent of the 382,197 ballots cast in the June 24 runoff.
"People have said that we were looking for Democrats to vote for Cochran, but what we were looking for were Cochran supporters who didn't vote," said Perry, the super PAC's director.
"We were looking for all Mississippians who would vote for Thad Cochran," he said "and we went into all communities."