The Bizarre Scandal That Could Tear Apart the Tea Party's Best Hope for a Primary Win

Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel is challenging Sen. Thad Cochran for the Republican nomination this year, and more and more of his allies are being arrested. 

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Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel is challenging longtime Sen. Thad Cochran for his seat in the Republican primary this year, and more and more of his allies are being arrested. Why? It's one of the truly strangest stories on the sidelines of the 2014 midterms, centering around a pro-McDaniel blogger in Mississippi who allegedly snuck into a nursing home to illicitly film Cochran's ailing, bedridden wife. The blogger, Clayton Thomas Kelly, was arrested a week ago. Late on Thursday, two more were arrested, including McDaniel ally Mark Mayfield, who is the vice chairman of the state's Tea Party.

The Washington Post's  Philip Rucker and Robert Costa argue that McDaniel has long been the Tea Party's best hope for a primary victory against a sitting member of Congress: "Cochran personifies the kind of free-spending Beltway broker," they write, "that grass-roots conservative voters have often revolted against." But the big target on Cochran's back occludes the hefty financial resources being poured into the senator's bid for another term. While various Tea Party groups have responded with their own expensive campaigns to support McDaniel's bid, this scandal now threatens to override all that coming into the state's June 3 primaries.

For one thing, as Costa reports, McDaniel and his campaign have not yet been officially "cleared" of a connection to the incident, according to Madison County District Attorney Michael Guest. Guest's remarks to the Post follow an earlier statement he made indicating that he has no reason to believe the McDaniel campaign was involved, a statement that was picked up by the McDaniel as proof that his "campaign had nothing to do with this sad incident."

Cochran's campaign has pushed the idea of a McDaniel connection to the scandal, hard, accusing the McDaniel campaign of having some early knowledge of the video of Cochran's wife. Their evidence: contradictory statements made by the campaign on the topic. Kelly, who goes by "Constitutional Clayton" when he blogs, posted that video of Cochran's wife to YouTube. It remained on the site for just a few hours, as the Madison County Journal noted, but that was long enough to get noticed. For that, he faces two charges: a felony charge of exploitation of a vulnerable adult, and a felony charge of photographing or filming another without permission where there is expectation of privacy. In court on Thursday, Kelly's legal team insinuated that the blogger was being handed trumped-up charges, as WAPT news reports:

Kelly's attorneys said the blogger didn't make any money off the video and argued that if the value is under $250, the charge is a misdemeanor. In response, the police investigator said Rose Cochran's image is "priceless."

"I think there's a lot of, how you say, bigger powers and stuff that are moving, and that's why this case isn't handled the way it should have been handled in regards to it being a misdemeanor or of it being dismissed outright," Camp said.

As TPM's Josh Marshall notes, this whole incident could benefit a narrative previously floated by McDaniel allies, that Cohcran has long been in an affair with one of his aides (see: this Breitbart article for how that theory usually goes.). In case it's not clear, that accusation comes without proof that there is actually any infidelity on Cochran's part. So maybe Kelly was trying to help twist the knife on the opposition's image of Cochran as a man who may have abandoned his sick wife. If so, it didn't exactly work out as planned.

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