As many of you know, Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss) narrowly escaped having his career ended in the Mississippi Republican Senate primary. State senator Chris McDaniel forced Cochran into a runoff after running well to the six-term incumbent’s right, but lost a June runoff by a mere 7,600 votes. McDaniel filed a formal challenge to the results on Tuesday, saying that Cochran’s margin came from over 15,000 fraudulent votes–many of which supposedly came from Democrats who could not legally vote in the primary. McDaniel wants state party officials to throw out the runoff results and make him the nominee. However, McDaniel’s case took a severe hit yesterday, when a pastor who claimed Cochran had recruited him into an illegal vote-buying scheme admitted to state investigators that he made the whole thing up–and one of McDaniel’s staffers paid him to lie.
Stephen “Stevie” Fielder, an associate pastor at First Union Missionary Baptist Church in Meridian, first made headlines in early July, when he told conservative blogger Charles Johnson that a Cochran staffer offered to pay him $16,000 if he bribed black voters $15 to vote for Cochran in the Republican runoff. The Cochran staffer, whom Fielder identified as Saleem Baird, told Fielder that McDaniel was a racist–a charge that Fielder said he now knew to be false. Fielder claimed that several other staffers, including Cochran campaign manager Kirk Sims, discussed the scheme with him. However, Fielder said that he now realized what he had done was wrong. He also said that he never got a penny of the money Baird had promised him.
Under Mississippi’s open primary rules, anyone can vote on the GOP primary regardless of affiliation–provided they haven’t previously voted in another party’s primary. While that rule is all but unenforceable, Fielder was detailing a scheme that is indisputably illegal under both federal and Mississippi law. Fielder later walked back his claims, though according to The Washington Post they were somewhat fanciful to begin with.
However, Mississippi attorney general Jim Hood revealed yesterday that Fielder told two state investigators looking into his original claim that a McDaniel staffer paid him $2,000 to lie about the vote-buying scheme. A spokeswoman with the attorney general’s office subsequently told The (Jackson) Clarion-Ledger that person was McDaniel campaign spokesman Noel Fritsch. When reached by both The Clarion-Ledger and The Post, Fritsch appeared to stick with the vote buying story.
If there’s anything to this story at all, winning this challenge to the results will be the least of McDaniel’s worries. Stay tuned, and let us know your thoughts at the Liberal America Facebook page. Sign up for our free daily newsletter to receive more great stories like this one.