Recent developments in Mississippi’s Republican U.S. Senate primary were already bizarre. Just a week ago, a blogger/activist allegedly snuck into a nursing home in order to photograph Sen. Thad Cochran’s (R) ailing, bedridden wife. The accused, Clayton Thomas Kelly, supports Cochran’s GOP rival, Chris McDaniel, and used the photographs in a video intended to undermine the incumbent.
The story looked slightly worse when the McDaniel campaign gave contradictory information about how much it knew about Kelly’s actions.
Yesterday, the Clarion-Ledger reported that the entire fiasco grew more serious with the arrests of several alleged co-conspirators.
Authorities say the vice chairman of the Mississippi Tea Party and two other men conspired with Clayton Kelly to photograph U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran’s bedridden wife in her nursing home and create a political video against Cochran.Mark Mayfield of Ridgeland, an attorney and state and local tea party leader, was arrested Thursday along with Richard Sager, a Laurel elementary school P.E. teacher and high school soccer coach. Police said they also charged John Beachman Mary of Hattiesburg, but he was not taken into custody because of “extensive medical conditions.” All face felony conspiracy charges…. The arrest of Mayfield, well-known in political, business and legal circles, caused shock in Mississippi, in a criminal case and election that already had Mississippi in the national spotlight.
It’s one thing to think a local Tea Partier got overly invested in a primary race and showed ridiculously poor judgment. But it’s something altogether worse to see a story in which four people are accused of conspiring to pull off a ridiculous criminal scheme.
Note, the Clarion-Ledger added, “Authorities said they have no evidence at this point linking the alleged conspiracy to a campaign.” That said, Cochran’s team continues to question “when and how McDaniel and his staff knew” about this fiasco.
While the story continues to unfold in unpredictable ways, there’s a core question that needs an answer: why in the world would these Tea Partiers want to do this in the first place?
Josh Marshall published a summary that explains what the accused were probably thinking.
Whether or not McDaniel had any role in this, his campaign has clearly been sending out a lot of opposition research in the last couple weeks trying to portray Cochran as someone who doesn’t really live in Mississippi anymore and might be carrying on a relationship with a longtime member of his staff. No evidence at all has surfaced for the latter charge. But it was clearly the subtext of this story that appeared earlier this month at Breitbart.com.So, as near as I can figure it, the effort to photograph or video Mrs. Cochran was part of building or putting an exclamation point after this narrative about Cochran, which very much was coming out of the McDaniel campaign. And that’s of an out of touch Senator who’s not only abandoned his home state but more cuttingly abandoned his wife.Showing Cochran’s wife – who is undoubtedly in a pitiable and probably hard to see condition – was meant to drive home the emotional impact of this portrayal of Sen. Cochran.
And so at least four people allegedly got together to hatch a plot, never stopping to realize the criminal nature of their efforts or the likelihood that this scheme would blow up in their faces, hurting the candidate they were a little too eager to help.
The primary is a week from Tuesday. No one can say with confidence who’s likely to win because it’s been a long while since there was an independent poll in the race.
Update: One local observer noted that one of the three suspects arrested yesterday appears to have co-hosted a radio show with McDaniel, though how frequently is unclear.