Tea Party VP charged in Cochrane affair

Another turn in the drama unfolding in Mississippi over a blogger's bedside photo of Senator Thad Cochrane's wife in a nursing home. The picture accompanied a hit piece on Cochrane that has since been taken down after the blogger in question, Clayton Kelly, was arrested for taking advantage of a vulnerable adult.

Now, charges have been filed against a prominent Tea Party activist in the state, Mark Mayfield. He is being accused of conspiring with Kelly to take the nursing home pictures, and faces other related charges.

The scandal is inching closer to the campaign of Cochrane's challenger, state senator Chris McDaniel, who denies any knowledge of the incident.

Clarion Ledger:

The arrest of Mayfield, well-known in political, business and legal circles, caused shock in Mississippi, in a criminal case and election that already had Mississippi in the national spotlight.

Mayfield's attorneys — Merrida Coxwell and Mayfield's brother-in-law, former state Rep. John Reeves — quickly posted cash for Mayfield's release on a $250,000 bond but called it excessive. They and Kelly's attorney said the case appears to be politically driven.

"There's a lot of bigger powers moving, and that's why this case wasn't handled the way it should be," said Kelly's attorney Kevin Camp, who argued Kelly should face, at worst, a misdemeanor. Instead, felony charges of conspiracy and photo voyeurism were added to the count of exploitation of a vulnerable adult he already faced. He faces a total of 20 years in prison.

"It's all about politics," Camp said.

Cochran's opponent in a bitter GOP primary race, tea party-backed state Sen. Chris McDaniel of Ellisville, continued to deny any involvement with Kelly or the video and to accuse Cochran of gaming the incident for political points.

Authorities said they have no evidence at this point linking the alleged conspiracy to a campaign. But Cochran's camp has continued to question when and how McDaniel and his staff knew of it, and point to inconsistent answers McDaniel and others on the campaign have given since Kelly's arrest Friday night.

McDaniel in a statement Tuesday called on Cochran to take down a new ad. It says a "Chris McDaniel supporter has been charged with a felony for photographing his wife in a nursing home. Had enough? … Rise up against dirty politics."

McDaniel said, "It is shameful for a sitting U.S. senator to engage in such desperate slander and lies."

Mayfield has been an ardent supporter of McDaniel, as have the Mississippi Tea Party and the Central Mississippi Tea Party, both of which list Mayfield on their boards of directors. Tea party officials did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.

A photo posted recently on the McDaniel campaign's Facebook page shows Mayfield and other volunteers, saying, "Here's part of a crew that reached over 500 homes walking in Madison today. Great work team!"

Bare knuckle politics at its worst - from both sides. A poll released last week shows Cochrane trailing McDaniel by 4 points. The poll has a small sample and was conducted by Citizens United who are backing McDaniel's primary challenge.

But there's no doubt that prior to this incident, McDaniel had been gaining on Cochrane as his attacks were hitting home just as outside money began to pour into the state. With the primary coming up on June 3, how will Mississippi voters respond to what by any definition is dirty politics by a McDaniel supporter?

Cochrane is playing up the sympathy angle for all that it's worth, which may blunt McDaniel's momentum. No matter what happens with blogger Kelly and Mayfield, the race is likely to go down to the wire with the winner determined by which side can get their supporters to the polls.

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