Imagine if Watergate happened in Mayberry.
In the wee hours of Wednesday morning after polls closed in Mississippi’s GOP primary for U.S. Senate, a campaign staffer for Tea Party challenger Chris McDaniel was found locked inside a county courthouse with a a top Tea Party activist and a consultant for the Mississippi Baptist Christian Action Commission.
According to the Hinds County Sheriff’s Department, they gained access to the building around 2 a.m. then called the chair of the county Republican Party when they realized that they were locked inside. Finally, around 3:45 a.m. they were freed. Although the McDaniel campaign claimed that the three were let into the building by “uniformed personnel.” Othor Cain, a spokesman for the sheriff’s department said that was a lie, telling the Jackson Clarion Ledger, “It’s a fabrication that someone pointed them to a door. I think that’s a total misrepresentation of fact. None of our guys let anybody in.”
The sheriff’s department has since exonerated the three, stating in a release: “Based on our findings and subsequent conclusion, there is no reason to believe that the three individuals engaged in any criminal activity nor do we believe any laws were broken. Our investigation revealed that the three individuals were able to enter the courthouse through a side-door marked for employees only. This door was either propped-open or was malfunctioning at the time of entry.”
It’s unclear what the three were doing inside the courthouse. Election officials had been tallying the vote from Tuesday’s primary but had long since left. In a statement on Wednesday, a McDaniel campaign spokesman said that the Tea Partier “had sent people to the Hinds courthouse to obtain the outstanding numbers and observe the count.” However, it’s unclear what could have been observed inside a dark, locked courthouse.
This is not the only mishap that the McDaniel campaign has experienced in the past 48 hours. On Thursday, Tea Party Express, a super PAC, sent out a breathless fundraising email to supporters saying “We just got off the phone with the McDaniel campaign and they need our help!” The problem, of course, is that it is illegal for superPACs to coordinate with campaigns. While Tea Party Express insisted that they weren’t actually coordinating, the resulting mess does not exactly look professional.
These two incidents come on top of blogger “Constitutional Clayton” Kelly’s arrest for breaking into a nursing home in April where Cochran’s bedridden wife resides. The blogger did so in an attempt to videotape Cochran’s wife, who has severe dementia. Three others have since been arrested for conspiring with Kelly including a local Tea Party activist and former radio co-host of McDaniel’s. One of those three has since been linked to editing McDaniel’s Wikipedia page at the behest of a campaign staffer.
While the Cochran campaign has used this to charge that McDaniel’s campaign is full of criminals, that seems to be a rather ambitious overstatement. Instead, it seems to be packed with incompetents who make the Watergate burglars look like Lex Luthor. A growing theme of the Cochran campaign is that McDaniel’s campaign will eventually blow up—and if it happens while he’s a general election candidate, it will deliver likely victory to Democrat Travis Childers.
After the courthouse incident, the Cochran campaign seems to have a point. The problem for them is that this bungling incompetent already got more votes than the well-funded six-term incumbent did. McDaniel may run a campaign reminiscent of the Keystone Kops that has repeatedly bungled its rapid response, but it’s also the campaign of a frontrunner in the June 24 runoff and for good reason in arch-conservative electorate of Mississippi Republicans.