By EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS, Associated Press
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A defeated Senate candidate in Mississippi is arguing that a state court judge was wrong to dismiss his lawsuit that sought to overturn his Republican primary loss to incumbent Thad Cochran.
Attorneys for the tea party-backed candidate, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, filed legal arguments with the Mississippi Supreme Court late Thursday, hours before a midnight deadline.
The arguments mirror what McDaniel’s attorneys had said before Judge Hollis McGehee dismissed McDaniel’s lawsuit last month — that current state law does not specify a deadline for a candidate to challenge a primary loss.
McGehee had agreed with Cochran’s attorneys in saying a Mississippi Supreme Court ruling in a 1959 election dispute set a timeline for trying to overturn a primary loss, and that McDaniel waited too long to challenge results of the June 24 Republican primary runoff.
McDaniel attorney Mitch Tyner wrote in his brief Thursday that the 1959 Supreme Court ruling became irrelevant when the state Legislature rewrote election laws in 1986.
McDaniel is asking justices to reverse McGehee’s decision and order the judge to hold a full trial on the lawsuit. The suit had asked McGehee to declare McDaniel the GOP primary winner, based on McDaniel’s contention that Cochran improperly courted voters who usually support Democrats.
Cochran’s attorneys must file legal briefs to the state Supreme Court by Sept. 24, and the two sides make oral arguments to the state Supreme Court on Oct. 3.
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.
State law says the ballot must be given to counties by Sept. 10, which was 55 days before the general election. Absentee ballots must be ready weeks in advance to send to overseas military voters.
No judge has ordered a do-over of a statewide election in Mississippi. If the Supreme Court overturns Judge Hollis McGehee’s ruling and sends McDaniel’s lawsuit to trial, McDaniel would have to prove 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.
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.
McDaniel received significant financial support from out-of-state groups trying to unseat longtime Republican senators they consider insufficiently conservative. McDaniel led a three-person Republican primary on June 3. Turnout jumped significantly when Cochran won the runoff three weeks later, including in predominantly African-American precincts where Cochran fared well.
Certified results show Cochran won by 7,667 votes.
McDaniel called the runoff a “sham.” His lawsuit said Mississippi GOP officials violated the rights of Republicans by allowing people to vote who didn’t intend to support the party’s nominee.
Cochran campaign spokesman Jordan Russell has called McDaniel’s lawsuit “baseless.”