Mississippi Tea Partier Is on a Martyrdom Mission

Chris McDaniel said he is challenging his loss to Thad Cochran with the state GOP that already certified the result. The move is all about winning by losing.

Jonathan Bachman/Reuters

Some Senate campaigns end with victory speeches, others with concessions. Chris McDaniel’s may be the first to end with the candidate essentially shouting “YOLO.”

In a press conference outside the office of his lawyer, Mississippi State Senator Chris McDaniel announced that he would mount a legal challenge to his loss in the June 24 Senate runoff against six-term incumbent Thad Cochran. But while McDaniel had previously pushed for a new election, the Tea Party insurgent wasn’t interested in a do over. Instead, he wanted to be declared the winner in what seemed less like an attempt to win and more like political posturing for his next election.

According to McDaniel’s lawyer, Mitch Tyner, the Tea Partier actually won by 25,000 votes. The campaign claims that there were 3,500 illegal crossover voters, 9,500 “irregular votes,” and 2,275 absentee ballots that were improperly cast. If that were the case, it would convert Cochran’s 7,000-vote win on election night, which has since been certified by the Mississippi Republican Party, into a loss. Based on these numbers, election law scholar Rick Hasen has already said that McDaniel will “likely lose” his challenge.

Yet, the campaign didn’t limit itself just to making claims about actual votes. McDaniel railed against what he called despicable acts of race baiting aimed against him as Cochran supporters tried to turn out African American voters in the runoff after narrowly losing the first round of voting. The Tea Partier deplored dirty tricks as well as “dirty money, whether from [Michael] Bloomberg or other Republican U.S. Senators:” spent against his campaign in what was a rare post-election public statement.

While the legal challenge could go into the courts, it has to be first heard by Mississippi Republican Party’s Executive Committee. At the press conference, Tyner said he would be happy not to pursue a court challenge if the state GOP holds a public hearing and casts a public vote on McDaniel’s challenge. This presents an interesting conundrum for state GOP, while it would avoid the legal costs of court fight, it also would create a public spectacle where McDaniel would likely become a political martyr in the process and set himself up for any race of his choosing in Mississippi’s odd-year elections in 2015.

The problem for McDaniel is that he just has to get the state GOP to play along, something that doesn’t seem likely at present. But at this point, after six weeks of posturing and conservative bloggers crying foul, at least the Tea Partier is finally moving forward on his legal challenge.