By Emily Le Coz
JACKSON Miss. (Reuters) - A Mississippi judge on Friday dismissed an election challenge brought by Tea Party-backed U.S. Senate candidate Chris McDaniel, who claims incumbent Thad Cochran stole the Republican primary by encouraging voter fraud.
Ruling on a contest once seen as a test of Tea Party clout, Special Judge Hollis McGehee found that McDaniel waited too long to file an initial complaint with the state Republican Party.
“The undisputed facts are that McDaniel filed his complaint 41 days after the date of the election,” McGehee said, speaking from a Gulfport courthouse. “The law requires it to be done within 20 days.”
The McDaniel campaign has the option to appeal, campaign spokesman Noel Fritsch said.
"We certainly respect the legal process, but we absolutely disagree on this point of law. We are going to take the weekend to take stock and see whether it’s prudent to elevate this to the next level. We’ll announce something Tuesday, probably in a press conference," Fritsch said after the ruling.
McDaniel, a state senator, lost the Republican nomination in a June 24 runoff election by roughly 7,700 votes. He refused to concede, saying that thousands of ballots had been improperly cast or mishandled by county election officials.
Cochran’s campaign has maintained that McDaniel’s challenge is without merit and has said that Cochran, a six-term incumbent, is focused on the general election.
Travis Childers, a former congressman, is the Democratic nominee for the seat.
(Reporting Emily Le Coz; Editing by Jonathan Kaminsky)