Charges Fly in GOP Race for Thad Cochran's Senate Seat

Monday, 19 May 2014 08:52 PM

By Cathy Burke

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Repercussions continue to rattle the heated Senate primary race in Mississippi, where the arrest of a political blogger for taking photos of incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran's wife in a nursing home set off charges of foul play on both sides.

Challenger Chris McDaniel's campaign has disavowed any knowledge of the blogger, Clayton Kelly, who was arrested Friday.

But when a voice mail from the McDaniel campaign manager surfaced over the weekend questioning what the McDaniel team knew about Kelly and when they knew it, the challenger's campaign said Cochran's campaign was "using the actions of a sick individual to slander" the tea party candidate, The Clarion-Ledger reported Monday.

In the voice mail, the McDaniel campaign manager declares: "We don't know this guy. We have no idea who he is," the newspaper reported.

But later, the manager, state Sen. Melanie Sojourner, says: "There was some stuff several months ago where this guy was doing some insane stuff online. We found out about it and Chris and I immediately sicced a bunch of volunteers trying to find out who was the source of just a lot of ugly rumors and nasty stuff, and we wanted it squashed."

Kelly has been charged with exploitation of a vulnerable adult for allegedly sneaking into Rose Cochran's nursing home room Thursday, photographing her and using the photo in an April 26 video attack ad against Cochran and in support of McDaniel.

Rose Cochran suffers from dementia and has lived at the nursing home for 14 years, the newspaper reported. The unauthorized video was pulled within hours of being posted.

"I have been fortunate to have a wonderful family, and like so many families, we are deeply affected by my wife's serious, long-term illness that we consider to be a very private family matter. We will continue doing everything we can to protect my wife's safety and security," Cochran said after Kelly's arrest, CNN reports.

McDaniel decried the blogger's attack ad as well.

"I've reached out to Sen. Cochran directly to express my abhorrence for the reprehensible actions of this individual. This criminal act is deeply offensive, and my team and I categorically reject such appalling behavior. My thoughts and prayers are with Sen. Cochran and his family," he said, CNN reports.

"Politics is about the exchange of ideas, and this type of action has no place in politics whatsoever and will not be tolerated."

But the McDaniel team said the latest insinuations related to the voice mail are over the top.

Campaign spokesman Noel Fritsch explained that the campaign "became aware of a highly offensive Internet video" and "immediately instructed staff that this was out of the bounds of politics, and we should make sure no one associated with our campaign gave any credence to the video."

"Everyone knows we had nothing to do with this, and the insinuations otherwise are shameful and have no place in the campaign."

McDaniel, a lawyer, radio commentator, and Mississippi state senator, has the support of conservative groups, including Club for Growth, and Sarah Palin. He has criticized Cochran's out-of-touch attitude with conservatives and his voting record.

Polls have shown McDaniel gaining on the incumbent.

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