GOP Establishment Targets Tea Party Candidate Over Blogger Break-In

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May 17, 2014 2:34 p.m.

A political blogger allegedly sneaking into the nursing home where the wife of Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) lives to take her photograph is one of the more repulsive political stories in some time. And once the accused was linked to the tea party insurgent challenging Cochran in the GOP primary, establishment types leapt.

The blogger, Clayton Thomas Kelly, 28, has been an outspoken supporter of challenger State Sen. Chris McDaniel — going so far as to wonder if he could be the next Rand Paul — while consistently criticizing Cochran. That meant that his alleged transgressions immediately took center stage in what might be the most bitter Republican primary this cycle.

Explicitly and implicitly, establishment Republican operatives tied Kelly to McDaniel.

“My only response would be that it’s disgusting and inhuman,” Brad Dayspring, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told TPM in an email. “For weeks, the attacks lobbed toward Senator Cochran have been ugly, and there seems to be no boundary that they won’t cross.”

The McDaniel campaign quickly sought to distance itself from Kelly, asserting that the blogger had “no relationship” while it released a sympathetic statement from McDaniel toward the Cochrans.

“I’ve reached out to Senator Cochran directly to express my abhorrence for the reprehensible actions of this individual,” McDaniel said. “This criminal act is deeply offensive and my team and I categorically reject such appalling behavior.”

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But separating McDaniel from Kelly could prove more difficult than a simple statement. Though a campaign spokesman told the Clarion-Ledger, which broke the story, that he had “never even heard (Kelly’s) name,” one of the blog posts on Kelly’s website is titled “I Met MS Senator Chris McDaniel” and features what seems to be a picture with McDaniel and Kelly.

GOP operatives also pointed to a YouTube video of Kelly’s that appears to feature a one-on-one interview with McDaniel. McDaniel, for his part, told The Hill that he had met Kelly, but didn’t know him.

There is no certain evidence that the McDaniel campaign coordinated with Kelly or knew of his break-in, but other Republican establishment types — former aides for Mitt Romney, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and the NRSC — still berated the pair on Twitter. And Dayspring tweeted nuggets of the McDaniel campaign’s confused response and alleged inconsistencies in its version of events.

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