This Is a Hot One

Republican primary challenger Chris McDaniel says longtime U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., is "one of the biggest spenders in Washington" and is out of touch with Mississippi and its conservative roots, Thursday, Ma... Republican primary challenger Chris McDaniel says longtime U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., is "one of the biggest spenders in Washington" and is out of touch with Mississippi and its conservative roots, Thursday, May 15, 2014, at the Capitol in Jackson, Miss. McDaniel, a state senator from Ellisville, also accused the veteran senator of being a liberal and again challenged him to a debate. Cochran's campaign spokesman, Jordan Russell, says McDaniel's statements are "a sign of a desperate campaign," as both sides hunker down for a June 3 primary. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis) MORE LESS
Start your day with TPM.
Sign up for the Morning Memo newsletter

Pop Quiz: Why is Mississippi next door to Louisiana? Because the politics there are almost as weird and dirty as they are in Louisiana. Also, both heartlands of American music. But that’s another story.

I’m inclined to say this is what happens when you’ve got a Tea Party candidate who dabbles in neo-confederate and supremacist politics. But boy is this one weird and dirty. Here are the key facts. Incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran’s wife has been in a nursing home for more than a decade. Precise details are sketchy but she appears to suffer from some form of advanced dementia and is in precarious health. The Tea Party candidate McDaniel has been dishing out an avalanche of oppo over recent days including a very weird article in Breitbart which in the guise of talking about spending on congressional trips was clearly intended to suggest that Cochran is having an affair.

But now things have gotten really dark and weird (yes, we’re on a very relative scale here.) A pro-McDaniel blogger, Clayton Thomas Kelly, was just arrested for breaking into the nursing home where Cochran’s wife lives, videotaping her and then posting the video. Remember, this is an elderly woman who I’m told is in a fairly advanced vegetative state. So in addition to being a serious felony it is just ugly and awful in human terms.

So Kelly got arrested and obviously it’s an embarrassment for the McDaniel campaign since he’s a supporter, appears to have had some level of contact with the campaign if not necessarily a relationship and seems to have been trying to advance (in a colossally weird and immoral way) the same wife/aide something something something story the McDaniel campaign has been pushing with the reporters.

But here’s where it gets dicey for the McDaniel campaign and where Cochran’s supporters have pounced. It’s pretty clear they knew the details of what happened before the news of what happened became public – mainly because McDaniel’s campaign manager called her counterpart to commiserate and distance McDaniel from the incident. McDaniel himself also seems to have told reporters he’d only just learned of the story when his campaign manager had said he’d been bummed about it since he heard about it the night before.

To be clear, there are plenty of ways the McDaniel camp could have found out about this without having any foreknowledge of what happened or any role in approving or instigating it. Indeed, I’d imagine that is by far the more likely possibility. Politics is a small world and Kelly was clearly in their orbit. So you can imagine a bunch of ways they could have found out he’d been arrested and gotten the gist of the story. The campaign flatly denies any advance knowledge and says they found out about it from another local blog.

Still, it’s a very clear and pretty legitimate opening to ask just how they got the information, just what their relationship is with Kelly and – as long as the Cochran camp is on the subject – did you tell him to break into the nursing home?

The McDaniel people also seem to have gotten at least tripped up on the details of their story. And here’s one last point: the cops confiscated Kelly’s laptop. What do you bet there are emails on it with people tied to the McDaniel campaign?

I’m not sure McDaniel ever had a chance or alternatively whether the people who support him really care what he or any of his supporters do. But in news terms this is the kind of story that just kills you because there are so many different questions to ask, so many different threads to pull. It can drag on endlessly. There’s no clear way for the McDaniel folks to definitively exonerate themselves and the entirety of Team Cochran there to keep the questions coming. The key thing is that the underlying act is so morally reprobate that it’s radioactive for anyone who gets near it. And McDaniel’s near it.

Latest Editors' Blog
Masthead Masthead
Founder & Editor-in-Chief:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Associate Editor:
Editor at Large:
General Counsel:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Associate Publisher:
Front End Developer:
Senior Designer: