By Emily Le Coz
JACKSON Miss. (Reuters) - The Mississippi Republican Party on Wednesday denied U.S. Senate hopeful Chris McDaniel's challenge of the June 24 primary race he lost to incumbent U.S. Senator Thad Cochran, in which the conservative state senator argued some 15,000 ballots had been illegally or improperly cast.
State Republican Party Chairman Joe Nosef said it could not decide such a complex issue, given time constraints and other concerns mandated by party bylaws and state statutes.
"The only way to ensure the integrity of the election process and provide a prudent review of this matter is in a court of law," Nosef wrote in a letter to McDaniel's attorney on Wednesday.
McDaniel and his supporters say Democrats voted in their partisan primary and then again in the Republican runoff in violation of election rules.
Mitch Tyner, McDaniel's attorney, signaled after receiving the letter that he would file the challenge in a state circuit court. He said the campaign has provided the state Republican Party evidence it had collected, such as signed affidavits by campaign volunteers, that purports to show voter misdeeds.
On Monday, Tyner argued enough ballots were improperly cast to cost McDaniel the election. The Cochran campaign disputes the accusations and has vowed to continue doing so in court.
The news comes hours after a man pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiring with three others to photograph Cochran's bedridden wife for political purposes.
John Mary entered his plea to one count of felony conspiracy before Madison County Circuit Judge William Chapman, who sentenced him to five years of supervised probation on condition he cooperated with the probe into the case.
Mary, a former conservative radio host, was arrested in May after authorities said he helped political blogger Clayton Kelly sneak into the Jackson-area nursing home where Rose Cochran has lived for a decade because of Alzheimer's disease, and photograph her.
Kelly later posted the images in an online video attacking Senator Cochran, who was in a primary battle with Tea Party challenger Chris McDaniel. The video was removed soon after.
Cochran has denied any involvement in the scheme.
Besides Kelly and Mary, authorities arrested school teacher Richard Sager and attorney Mark Mayfield for their roles in the incident. Kelly and Sager deny wrongdoing. Their cases have yet to go before a grand jury. Mayfield committed suicide in June.
(Writing by Eric M. Johnson; Editing by Jim Loney and Clarence Fernandez)