A Thad Cochran campaign call Wednesday afternoon tumbled into disaster when a questioner asked why the Cochran campaign was “harvesting black people” for votes.
The call was held to push back against claims from the campaign of Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel, Cochran’s intra-party challenger who contends he won last week’s Republican primary runoff election illegitimately by courting the votes of Democrats and African-Americans.
But the call was quickly hijacked by callers who later referred to themselves as supporters of McDaniel. One repeatedly interrupted Cochran campaign adviser Austin Barbour.
“Quick question,” said the caller, who did not identify himself. “Since black people harvested cotton, why is it OK to harvest their votes? Why is it OK to harvest the votes of black people?”
After Barbour largely ignored the question, the questioner asked again: “If black people were harvesting cotton, why do you think it’s OK to harvest their votes?”
This finally triggered a response from Barbour.
“Sir, I don’t know where you’re calling from, but I’m happy to address any question, no matter the lunacy of it,” Barbour said.
But the questioner continued to press, insistent on derailing the call.
“Why did you use black people? Why did you use black people to try to get Cochran elected when they’re not even Republicans? You’re treating them as if they’re just idiots, that they will just vote for Cochran just because they’re black. Why did you harvest black votes?”
This was when Barbour decided to end the call — or at least end his participation. He urged members of the national media to call or email him or Cochran campaign spokesman Jordan Russell. Another questioner butted in to attempt to ask a “legitimate question,” as he called it. Barbour, though, hung up in the process of him asking the question, even as a woman shouted, “Let him talk!”
Charles C. Johnson, the conservative blogger who has launched accusations against the Cochran campaign and other Mississippi Republicans, tweeted the call’s details to his nearly 6,000 followers about 15 minutes before it was scheduled to start.
On Monday, Johnson posted an interview Monday night with an African-American man who described himself as pastor in Mississippi who claimed he bribed black voters to turn out and vote for Cochran. But the interview came with the disclosure that the pastor was paid for his participation, which raised doubts about his claims.
It wasn’t clear if Johnson was the one who actually asked the question on the call.
The call didn’t end when Barbour hung up. Callers lingered, chatting with each other. Some wondered if the Cochran campaign had planted the interruption to make McDaniel supporters appear racist. Others wondered if it was President Barack Obama’s doing. At one point, callers played Obama soundboards back and forth at each other. One person noted how it was blowing up on Twitter, because “BuzzFeed retweeted this!”
The call went on for at least another half hour after Barbour ended the Cochran campaign’s participation.
McDaniel announced Wednesday he was forming an “Election Challenge Fund” to contest what he considered a “corrupt” election. His campaign claims they have already found more than 3,300 voting “irregularities,” but it has produced no hard evidence.
“Put up or shut up. If they have hard evidence, bring it forward,” Barbour said on the conference call before it descended into chaos.
Here’s some of the audio from the call:
This post has been updated.
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