JACKSON, Mississippi — Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour's political machine paid to turn out the black vote for Republican Sen. Thad Cochran's re-election bid, according to campaign finance reports. His vanquished rival insisted that was improper and said Wednesday that a legal challenge to the loss remained likely in the next 10 days.
Barbour, a political giant in his state and a favorite of national donors, backed Mississippi Conservatives and his nephew Henry Barbour was a top official there. Mississippi Conservatives sent almost $145,000 to All Citizens for Mississippi, a late-to-arrive group that urged black voters to turn out for the June 24 runoff between Cochran and tea party favorite state Sen. Chris McDaniel.
The Barbour-led group was the sole source of money for the outreach efforts toward black and Democratic voters. The group spent $111,000 in the final weeks of the campaign to highlight Cochran's support for historically black colleges and for Hurricane Katrina recovery dollars.
McDaniel and his allies bitterly complain that Democrats helped put Cochran over the top in a state where Democrat is often synonymous with black. McDaniel himself has refused to explicitly reference race, but his advisers said that Cochran and his allies resorted to "race baiting" to win.
The campaign finance report, filed late Tuesday, was the latest development in a hard-fought campaign that was steeped in racial politics.
"What we were looking for were Cochran supporters who didn't vote," said Brian Perry, the chief at the pro-Cochran super PAC. "When you go back and look at his 2008 general election, he had a lot of support in the black community. These are people who voted for him before and more-than-likely would be voting for him in the general. And so it makes sense to ask them to vote for him in the primary, as well."
Tea party groups objected to the tactic, and claim Cochran prevailed in his runoff with Democrats' backing, at Republicans' expense.
McDaniel's lawyers and advisers on Wednesday told reporters that a legal challenge remained likely. McDaniel did not appear at the event at his attorney's offices but instead announced on Facebook that he would embark on a "Truth and Justice" tour.
Speaking to reporters outside his office, McDaniel attorney Mitch Tyner said the Cochran campaign inflamed race relations in search of votes.
"The Cochran campaign, through race baiting, took us back 50 years," Tyner said.
He went on to blame Washington Republicans, who raised millions to help Cochran in his runoff. It remains a common and effective criticism that helps raise cash from tea party donors.
"United States senators contributed money for ads to call Chris McDaniel a racist and to motivate black Democrats through hatred to come out and to vote for Thad Cochran," Tyner said.
Cochran strategist Austin Barbour, another nephew of the governor, criticized the McDaniel campaign for not offering proof to back up its claims of fraud in the election. He said the McDaniel camp offers only "more rhetoric, more grandstanding, more fundraising appeals."
"The people of Mississippi are ready to move on," Austin Barbour said at a separate news conference.
Certified results of the June 24 runoff show Cochran won by 7,667 votes.
McDaniel has said there might have been thousands of improper votes cast, but he has not released documents to support that claim. The Cochran camp says there might have been hundreds of improper votes statewide, but not enough to overturn the election.
Tea party groups, who spent millions to help in McDaniel's two races against Cochran, urged Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus to step in.
"This is not how Republicans should run primary campaigns against other Republicans," eight national tea party leaders wrote to Priebus. "The Republican National Committee, as the national infrastructure of the GOP, has a responsibility to police its own."
They were seeking an investigation of Henry Barbour, who is on the 168-member Republican National Committee.
Henry Barbour had little patience for tea party groups' agitation.
"The reality is, there is a lot of hot rhetoric and reckless accusations flying around from people who don't have facts," he said in an interview. "They don't care about facts. They care about promoting themselves and raising money."
McDaniel had finished 1,418 votes ahead of Cochran in the June 3 GOP primary, which also included a third candidate who spent little on his election effort.
Turnout increased by 63,295 votes in the runoff. Certified statewide results show Cochran received 51 percent of the 382,197 ballots cast in the June 24 runoff.
"We were looking for all Mississippians who would vote for Thad Cochran," said Perry, the super PAC's director, "and we went into all communities."
Elliott reported from Washington.