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Chris McDaniel continues challenging Mississippi Senate primary results

JACKSON, Miss. -- Defeated Mississippi Senate candidate Chris McDaniel is arguing that a state court judge was wrong to dismiss his lawsuit that sought to overturn his Republican primary loss to Sen. Thad Cochran.

Just hours before a midnight deadline, attorneys for McDaniel, a state senator who was supported by tea party groups, filed legal arguments with the Mississippi Supreme Court late Thursday.

The arguments reiterate what McDaniel's attorneys had said before Judge Hollis McGehee dismissed McDaniel's lawsuit last month - that current state law does not specify a deadline for a candidate to challenge a primary loss.

Thad Cochran thanks supporters after hard-fought primary win

A 1959 judicial decision by the Mississippi Supreme Court imposed a 20-day deadline to file, according to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, but McDaniel's attorney argued that the decision applies only to local offices, not statewide or legislative offices.

The attorney, Mitch Tyner, also wrote in his brief Thursday that the 1959 Supreme Court ruling became irrelevant when state lawmakers overhauled election laws in 1986.

McGehee had agreed with Cochran's attorneys in saying the court ruling set a timeline for trying to overturn a primary loss, and that McDaniel delayed too long in challenging the results of the Republican primary runoff, which was held on June 24.

McDaniel is asking justices to reverse McGehee's decision and order the judge to hold a full trial on the lawsuit. The suit had asked McGehee to declare McDaniel the GOP primary winner, based on McDaniel's contention that Cochran improperly courted voters who usually support Democrats.

Cochran's attorneys must file legal briefs to the state Supreme Court by Sept. 24, and the two sides make oral arguments to the state Supreme Court on Oct. 3.

Mississippi election officials already have prepared a Nov. 4 general election ballot that lists Cochran as the Republican nominee, former U.S. Rep. Travis Childers as the Democratic nominee and Shawn O'Hara as the Reform Party candidate. Military and absentee voters will begin casting absentee ballots on Saturday.

State law says the ballot must be given to counties by Sept. 10, which was 55 days before the general election. Absentee ballots must be ready weeks in advance to send to overseas military voters.

No judge has ordered a do-over of a statewide election in Mississippi. If the Supreme Court overturns McGehee's ruling and sends McDaniel's lawsuit to trial, McDaniel would have to prove that the election was so sloppily run that its outcome could not be known. To avoid a new runoff, McDaniel's lawsuit asked the judge to declare him the winner of the Republican nomination.

Legal observers believe McDaniel's argument is a long-shot, but if he is successful, according to the Clarion-Ledger, Mississippi voters could participate in three more Senate elections: the general election on November 4, a "do-over" Republican primary, and yet another election thereafter.

Tea party leader: Thad Cochran “stole” Senate election “fair and square”

McDaniel received significant financial support from out-of-state tea party groups trying to unseat longtime Republican senators they consider insufficiently conservative. McDaniel led a three-person Republican primary on June 3 by a razor-thin margin, but he failed to clear the 50-percent threshold that would avoided the need for a runoff.

Cochran won the runoff three weeks later thanks to a significant jump in turnout, particularly in predominantly African-American precincts where the incumbent fared well.

Cochran won the runoff by 7,667 votes, according to certified results.

McDaniel called the runoff a "sham." His lawsuit said Mississippi GOP officials violated the rights of Republicans by allowing people to vote who didn't intend to support the party's nominee.

Cochran campaign spokesman Jordan Russell has called McDaniel's lawsuit "baseless."

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