HERNANDO, Miss. -- Sen. Thad Cochran cancelled all campaign appearances on Saturday after news broke that a supporter of his opponent in the June 3 GOP primary allegedly took illegal pictures of Cochran's wife and posted them on the Internet.
The Clarion-Ledger newspaper of Jackson, Miss., reported Saturday morning that local police arrested Clayton Thomas Kelly, 28, who runs the weblog “Constitutional Clayton.” He allegedly slipped into the nursing home where Rose Cochran, who suffers from dementia and is bedridden, has lived since 2000, and took illegal photographs of her. Clayton allegedly incorporated the Images in a political video targeting Cochran that he posted on his blog. The video has since been taken down.
Cochran, 76, is facing a challenge from state Sen. Chris McDaniel — the first obstacle to re-election the six-term senator has face since being elected in 1978.
He had been scheduled for a day of campaigning, including attendance at the annual spring festival in the suburban Memphis community of Hernando in bellwether DeSoto County. The Cochran campaign confirmed that the senator’s appearances here and elsewhere were canceled in order to focus on the issue with his wife.
McDaniel, who made the rounds at the Hernando festival before moving on to other Saturday appearances, released a sharply worded statement condemning Clayton and his actions. The McDaniel campaign said it has no relationship with Clayton, in either a volunteer or official capacity.
“I’ve reached out to Sen. Cochran directly to express my abhorrence for the reprehensible actions of this individual. This criminal act is deeply offensive and my team and I categorically reject such appalling behavior. My thoughts and prayers are with Sen. Cochran and his family,” McDaniel said. “Politics is about the exchange of ideas and this type of action has no place in politics whatsoever and will not be tolerated.”
The Cochran campaign referred all questions regarding the matter to attorney Don Clark, who issued a statement. The Washington Examiner edited the statement for brevity.
“Recently, an unauthorized picture of Senator Cochran’s wife was posted on the internet as part of a video. The picture was taken inside of Mrs. Cochran’s room near her bedside,” Clark said. “We believed a crime may have been committed and we immediately notified the City of Madison Police Department since St. Catherine’s Nursing Home is located in the City of Madison. The police conducted an investigation, still in progress, resulting in the arrest last night. As you can imagine, Senator Cochran’s first concern was that of the safety of his wife as well as the invasion of her privacy and dignity. “
With roughly two weeks to go until the June 3 primary, tensions between supporters of Cochran and McDaniel are beginning to heat up. The Cochran campaign began advertising on Memphis broadcast television in recent days; the crucial northern Mississippi counties are covered by the Memphis media market. Ads from outside conservative groups are also running in Mississippi.
McDaniel is drawing support from Tea Party conservatives in Mississippi and the Tea Party establishment in Washington. This race appears to present the insurgent movement with it's only opportunity to oust a sitting incumbent GOP senator. Cochran has maintained the strong support of the GOP establishment in Washington and Jackson, Mississippi's capital, as well as a broad cross section of Magnolia State Republican voters.
Supporters of both candidates tend to agree that the contest is tightening, and that means incidents like the one involving Cochran’s wife could impact the outcome.