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Cochran, Miss. Opponent Trade Attacks in Video Scandal

Cochran, Miss. Opponent Trade Attacks in Video Scandal

By Caitlin Huey-Burns - May 27, 2014

One of the nastiest primary races in the country is heating up the airwaves in its final days.

Seeking a seventh Senate term, Republican Thad Cochran of Mississippi is taking a swing at opponent Chris McDaniel in a new ad. The spot links the state senator to a blogger recently arrested for allegedly photographing the incumbent’s ailing wife in a nursing home. McDaniel, who has denied any connection to the blogger, responded with a television spot calling Cochran’s ad and its accusations “outrageous.”

The so-called blogger scandal has added a bizarre twist to an already contentious race between the longtime senator and his conservative challenger, a contest that has elements of the Tea Party vs. establishment theme seen elsewhere this election cycle.

The June 3 primary will be the latest test between competing factions within the GOP. But the developments involving blogger Clayton Kelly -- an apparent backer of McDaniel who posted video of Rose Cochran in her nursing home while claiming the incumbent senator has a mistress -- figure to have an impact on the outcome.

In addition to Kelly, three others have been arrested in connection with taking and posting the video, including a state Tea Party leader (who has volunteered and raised money for McDaniel) and the candidate’s former radio show co-host.

McDaniel maintains he knew nothing of Kelly and the alleged plot to create the video, which he has called out of bounds. When news of it broke, his campaign struggled to explain when McDaniel first learned of the video. The Cochran campaign has tried to make connections, and released audio of McDaniel’s campaign manager denying involvement, even though McDaniel said soon afterward that he had not been made aware of the video.

“It’s the worst: A Chris McDaniel supporter charged with a felony for posting video of Thad Cochran’s wife in a nursing home? Had enough?” says a female narrator in Cochran’s most recent ad. A male narrator then calls Cochran “the best of what makes Mississippi great” and lists his credentials as a Navy veteran who is endorsed by the NRA, Gov. Phil Bryant, and the National Right to Life and who “voted against Obamacare 100 times.” The narrator then tells the audience to “rise up and say no to dirty politics.”

McDaniel shot back this week with a spot calling the Cochran ad shameless and outrageous.

“But no one said changing Washington, D.C., was going to be easy,” McDaniel says in the ad. “Mississippians deserve a senator who will repeal Obamacare entirely, limit government spending, and stand up for working families.”

McDaniel is backed by Tea Party groups and conservative organizations, including Club for Growth, which has increased its contributions to his campaign as Election Day nears and has assailed Cochran’s 35-year incumbency.

Last week, McDaniel published an open letter to Cochran, writing, “If you are inclined to cast aspersions on my honor and integrity, then I call upon you to do it to my face in a debate forum.”

Polling on the race is mixed. A Polling Company survey taken earlier this month found McDaniel leading by four points. A Harper poll taken in April found Cochran leading by 17.

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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