Mississippi tea party insurgent Chris McDaniel still has a very motivated support base, and despite missing his unofficial deadline to file a challenge last Friday, his campaign is still proceeding in public as if such a challenge will happen this week. Nevertheless, it is increasingly clear that outside groups have not only provided the bulk of his financial support, but are also driving his bid to force a do-over of the primary runoff he lost five weeks ago to incumbent Thad Cochran.
Better than most national reporters, Phillip Bump of The Washington Post has been quite on top of this story. Last week, he produced a nifty flowchart explaining how the odds are stacked against McDaniel winning a third ballot. Yesterday, Bump reported that three quarters of the money backing McDaniel has come from outside groups like Club For Growth and FreedomWorks that coordinate with each other:
“In some ways, this race is kind of a model of what we want to do in other races,” FreedomWorks for America’s national political director Russ Walker told us by phone last week. The group made a large commitment to McDaniel’s race, spending over $460,000 on online ads and a robust field program.
What Walker means when he says he hopes the race is a model is the process: His members picking a candidate; his team putting together a field program. FreedomWorks supporters started contacting voters in February, eventually having 350,000 “conversations” with voters. Before the runoff, the group held over 100 get-out-the-vote events and knocked on 140,000 doors.
That’s a substantial effort.
In a conversation with The Post, McDaniel’s spokesman said that the campaign made “tens and tens and tens of thousands” of contacts with voters, “into the low hundreds of thousands” — which even in those vague terms is less than FreedomWorks did — because that’s the group’s focus. “What we do is a little different than some of the other players on our side,” Walker explained. “They tend to do TV and radio and occasionally do persuasion mail.” FreedomWorks knocks doors. They are, if you will, the self-assigned field directors for the candidate.
As Politico reports, the arrival of these super PAC-driven campaigns has fed into a burgeoning political consultant sector that specializes in anti-incumbency campaigns. These efforts by national grassroots conservatives to circumvent the gatekeepers of the national party are reflected within Mississippi by McDaniel’s tea party supporters, who still believe they have a chance of winning a new runoff election in the state supreme court.
In the absence of a legal challenge from McDaniel, who faces calls from Mississippi newspapers to “pony up” his evidence, the Texas-based ‘voting integrity’ organization True The Vote (TTV) has taken the lead in federal court. After stumbling early and re-filing in the right jurisdiction, TTV had a hearing last week before a judge who was specially appointed to the case due to conflicts of interest in the Southern District. According to the Jackson Jambalaya blog, TTV president Catherine Engelbrecht had a tough time on the witness stand:
Hinds County attorney Pieter Teeuwissen then picked up the gauntlet and proceeded to lacerate Ms. Englebrecht on the stand. He asked her where she went in Hinds County. She replied she went to the courthouse but could not provide an exact date. She said it was within a few days of the second election. She said she never asked for nor spoke to the circuit clerk but spoke to some nice lady behind the counter. She provided no notes or documentation. Mr. Teewussen asked her if she knew Hinds County had two courthouses and two judicial districts. She said she didn’t know and could not state which courthouse she visited (KF note: I’ll stipulate it was probably the main circuit courthouse if her testimony is to be believed). It is no exaggeration to state that Ms. Englebrecht repeatedly fumbled her answers regardless of who the attorney questioning her was while she provided few specific details in her answers. It was clear she documented little, if any, of her actions.
Rankin County attorney Craig Slay then took his turn at bat and asked her the same questions: When did she visit Rankin County? Who did she meet, what took place. She said she went to an “annex-looking type building” and was directed to the Circuit Clerk. She said her name was Becky, she was white, and she wore glasses. She said she didn’t remember her hair color (there are two Beckies: Becky Boyd, the clerk, and Becky Pouncey, the deputy circuit clerk. One has gray hair, one is a brunette). He asked her if she ever invoked the NVRA. Ms. Englebrecht replied she didn’t remember.
McDaniel’s supporters are apparently sending letters to Judge Atlas as well. Such actions may seem counter-productive to a sane person, but they are perfectly rational to the sort of very excited people who actually believe black voters have illegally stolen their neoconfederate hero’s
rightful throne US Senate seat. As I keep saying, this race shows no signs of ever being truly “over” for them.