Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel said on Wednesday that he was considering a challenge to the results of the Senate Republican primary runoff election that six-term Sen. Thad Cochran won in a nail-biting finish.
"In the coming days, our team will look into the irregularities to determine whether a challenge is warranted," McDaniel, a state senator since 2008, said in a late-afternoon statement. "After we've examined the data, we will make a decision about whether and how to proceed."
But a Cochran spokesman told Newsmax that the senator now was focusing on winning another term in November.
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"Sen. McDaniel and his team ran a great race that they should be proud of," spokesman Jordan Russell said in an email. "The primary is over, and Sen. Cochran is the nominee.
"We look forward to uniting for a Republican victory in November and the new Republican majority in the U.S. Senate," Russell said.
McDaniel's statement followed Cochran's victory in the Tuesday runoff and broad speculation that the attorney and former talk-show host might contest the voting.
With nearly all of the votes counted, Cochran beat McDaniel
by slightly more than 6,000 votes, taking 50.8 percent of the vote to McDaniel's 49.2 percent. A record number of Mississippians — 374,893 — voted on Tuesday.
McDaniel forced the runoff by defeating Cochran in a June 3 primary but failing to win 50 percent of the vote. The state's voters set another turnout record — 318,902 — in that race.
The victory capped one of the most expensive
and acrimonious races this primary season, with outside groups pouring as much as $12 million into the contest.
Cochran faces former Democratic state Rep. Travis Childers and the Reform Party's Shawn O'Hara in the Nov. 4 general election. Mississippi last chose a Democratic senator in 1982.
The incumbent's runoff win was heavily dependent on Democrats and African Americans who did not vote in the June 3 primary. Voters in the Magnolia State do not have to declare party affiliation when they register.
The strategy outraged McDaniel and his tea party supporters — and several hired election observers and poll canvassers, particularly in counties with large black populations. In addition, the NAACP, Justice Department, and several state agencies said they were observing the vote.
After Tuesday's vote, McDaniel refused to concede the race to Cochran and hinted at investigating "irregularities" in a possible challenge to the results.
"Before this race is over we have to make absolutely certain the Republican primary was won by Republican voters," McDaniel told supporters in Hattiesburg. "There were literally dozens of irregularities reported all across this state."
McDaniel's statement came after several establishment Republicans played down the possibility of his challenging the runoff results.
Sen. Roger Wicker, the state's junior member of the upper chamber, had told Politico
that he had the impression that a McDaniel challenge was not forthcoming.
"My understanding is that is not going to happen," Wicker said. "I kind of heard it through the grapevine at lunch."
Brian Perry, treasurer of the Mississippi Conservatives PAC, the group backed by former Gov. Haley Barbour that strongly supported Cochran, said he also looked forward to party unity heading into the general election.
"There are two words that will unite the Republicans: 'Harry Reid,' " Perry told Newsmax in an interview. "Nobody wants Harry Reid to be the majority leader in the Senate.
"Republicans will come together to support Thad Cochran and do Mississippi's part in returning the Senate to a Republican majority."
Joe Nosef, chairman of the Mississippi Republican Party, which also backed the incumbent, did not return queries from Newsmax seeking comment.
Tea party groups reiterated their support for McDaniel and urged the results be challenged.
"Nobody said taking on the establishment would be easy," said Jenny Beth Martin, chairman of the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund, which spent more than $800,000 on the race. "We’re going to keep fighting.
"This is a tough loss," she said in a statement. "Thad Cochran campaigned as a Democrat and won with Democrat votes. The establishment will do anything to hold on to power."
McDaniel would have to contest the results through the state GOP. A separate state law does not allow McDaniel the option of waging a write-in candidacy in November.
A possible challenge from McDaniel would concern Hinds County, according to widespread news reports. Cochran won the county by nearly 11,000 votes.
Hinds County, in the western part of the state and on the southern end of the Mississippi Delta, had a 2010 population of 245,285 — with 69.1 percent of that being African American.
The next largest group is whites, which totaled 28.4 percent in 2010, according to U.S. Census data. The county had a median household income that year of $33,991.
Mississippi is historically polarized, racially and politically, and blacks vote overwhelmingly Democratic in the county.
The Cochran campaign heavily targeted Hinds County with extensive robocalling and other get-out-the-vote efforts. GOP precinct managers reported steady turnout on Tuesday, according to The Jackson Clarion-Ledger.
On Tuesday, 24,889 Hinds County residents voted, up from 17,406 on June 3. Cochran's vote increased from 11,479, or 66 percent of those cast, to 17,927, or 72 percent, the Clarion-Ledger reports.
Overall, statewide turnout increased by almost 70,000 votes over the June 3 primary. Turnout in majority black counties grew by 43 percent, while in counties where African Americans are less than a majority, it grew 17 percent, according to the Clarion-Ledger.
The correlation of Cochran's percentage of the Hinds County vote Tuesday to its African-American vote can be seen in these two charts tweeted by Charles Franklin, a University of Wisconsin political science professor and founder of PollsAndVotes.com
It is such "irregularities" regarding Tuesday's vote that McDaniel reiterated in his Wednesday statement.
"The conservative movement is alive in Mississippi," McDaniel said. "The Republicans who voted last night made it clear they're looking for conservative change in Mississippi.
"But the results also tell another story. They tell the story of some members of our party who are willing to engage in tactics unbecoming of the party of Ronald Reagan. It's no wonder so many conservatives don't feel welcome in the Republican Party.
"If our party and our conservative movement are to co-exist, it is paramount that we ensure the sanctity of the election process is upheld," McDaniel added. "And we will do that. In the case of yesterday's election, we must be absolutely certain that our Republican primary was won by Republican voters."
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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