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POLITICS: PennAve

Democratic activists were behind controversial Klan ads in Mississippi

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Photo - Chris McDaniel addresses his supporters amid a heated GOP primary runoff election against incumbent U.S. Senator Thad Cochran on Tuesday June 24, 2014 at the Lake Terrace Convention Center in Hattiesburg, Miss. (AP Photo/George Clark)
Chris McDaniel addresses his supporters amid a heated GOP primary runoff election against incumbent U.S. Senator Thad Cochran on Tuesday June 24, 2014 at the Lake Terrace Convention Center in Hattiesburg, Miss. (AP Photo/George Clark)
Senate,Republican Party,Mississippi,2014 Elections,David M. Drucker,Campaigns,PennAve,RNC,Thad Cochran,Chris McDaniel

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A Democratic activist has claimed responsibility for controversial radio ads that attempted to tie Mississippi Senate candidate Chris McDaniel to the Ku Klux Klan.

Ruth Harris, 65, of Jackson, Miss., said she and five other like-minded Democratic women pooled their resources to fund three radio spots urging voters to support Sen. Thad Cochran over McDaniel, a state senator, in Mississippi’s contentious June 24 GOP primary runoff.

Harris’ claim counters charges leveled by the McDaniel campaign that the Republican Establishment and GOP operative Henry Barbour were responsible for the ads.

In a telephone interview with the Washington Examiner on Monday morning, Harris said she has never met Barbour and doesn’t know how he ended up being linked to the radio ads. Harris also said she has never met either former Gov. Haley Barbour, Henry Barbour’s uncle, or Austin Barbour, Henry Barbour’s brother who advised the Cochran campaign.

“It was a group of ladies and I,” she said. “I don’t know how the Barbours even got [mentioned.] I’ve never met any of them.”

Asked why she felt the need to get involved in runoff campaign and run ads with hard-hitting language that suggested McDaniel and the Tea Party were racists who would return Mississippi to the state’s ugly segregationist past, Harris said: “One being, [McDaniel saying he] wouldn’t stoop so low for asking for a Democratic vote. And the way politics is going, it seemed liked something we needed to do.”

McDaniel narrowly beat Cochran in Mississippi’s June 3 GOP Senate primary. But he failed to crack 50 percent, sending the contest to a June 24 runoff.

McDaniel was favored to win round two, but came up short in part because Democrats turned out for Cochran in significant numbers. Under Mississippi’s open primary system, any registered voter could participate in the Republican runoff as long as they did not vote in another party’s primary on June 3.

McDaniel, who has thus far refused to concede, cried foul. He and his Tea Party supporters charged the state’s GOP Establishment, and in particular Republican operative Henry Barbour, with employing dirty tricks Republicans usually associate with Democrats. They said Barbour financed ads that accused to McDaniel of racism and KKK ties in an effort to motivate Democrats to back Cochran. Barbour ran the main super PAC behind Cochran’s candidacy, but has vehemently denied the charges.

“I am glad the people really behind this despicable KKK ad have been revealed, because Sen. Cochran’s opponents have falsely accused our group and others of running it,” Barbour said. “ As I have said from the start, I had zero to do with it.”

If Barbour was involved, it could be problematic. He is a Republican National Committee member for Mississippi and one of the architects of the GOP’s autopsy report that examined what went wrong for the party in the 2012 elections. On Monday, the McDaniel campaign maintained Barbour’s involvement, despite Harris maintaining that he had nothing to do with their ads. McDaniel is scheduled to hold a press conference Monday at 3:30 eastern time in Jackson.

“The fact that Ruth Harris is covering for ‘like-minded activists’ should deeply concern Republicans given that RNC committeeman Henry Barbour's new story is that he 'was involved with some of the racist ads but not with others,’ ” McDaniel campaign spokesman Noel Fritsch said in an email exchange. “Democrat activists don't spend their own money in Republican primaries, and one way or another Republicans who engaged in this reprehensible behavior will be held accountable.”

Barbour said he was not offering a new story but the same one he has had all along, which is that he was simply not involved in funding, supporting or promoting these ads. “No matter what I say, the McDaniel folks will continue to falsely accuse us of doing things we did not do. People are tired of the reckless and baseless accusations. I am focused on helping Sen. Cochran win in November so we can replace Harry Reid as Senate majority leader.”

Harris’ voice is featured in the radio ads in question, all of which were provided by her to the Washington Examiner. In the spots, she references Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., in a way that makes it sound as though the warnings about the so-called racist proclivities of McDaniel and the Tea Party are coming from him.

“This is an Election Day alert. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. When Congressman Thompson says a group of Tea Party radicals scares him, we should listen. Last week the Clarion Ledger was able to tie McDaniel’s campaign to an ally of the Ku Klux Klan. And, this supporter of McDaniel’s campaign was a Klan lawyer,” Harris says as the ad opens. “If we stand by and don’t go to the polls today, do you understand what we could lose? We could lose food stamps, housing assistance, student loans, early breakfast and lunch programs — and disaster assistance, as well as cuts to Social Security and Medicaid.

“The right-wing Tea Party people are saying we are too lazy to care or too afraid to go vote. They say we only want a hand out or something for free,” Harris says as the ad closes. “We are not going to turn back the hands of time.”

Though it has failed to provide proof, the McDaniel campaign has insisted that Cochran won the runoff because he received the support of thousands of Democrats who were ineligible to vote in the June 24 contest. The McDaniel campaign also has attempted to delegitimize Cochran’s victory by charging that the Republicans supporting the incumbent senator engaged in unethical behavior, such as backing the radio ads that Harris has claimed as her own.

Harris rebuffed claims by the McDaniel campaign that there had to be something nefarious behind Democratic activists coming together to boost Cochran.

“We’ve known Sen. Cochran for years and years,” she said. “Even though he’s a Republican, his views are not as radical as Mr. McDaniel’s.”

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