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Contested Mississippi U.S. Senate election heads to court

By Emily Le Coz

JACKSON Miss. (Reuters) - The Tea Party-backed U.S. Senate candidate defeated in the June Mississippi Republican primary filed a legal challenge contesting his loss on Thursday, days after his own party declined to look into his allegations of electoral misdeeds.

State Senator Chris McDaniel's judicial petition to take up his complaint marks a new stage in a contest against incumbent Thad Cochran - once viewed nationally as a key test of Tea Party clout in challenging the Republican establishment.

"This challenge is not about the candidates,” McDaniel said in a written statement. β€œIt is about the integrity of Mississippi's election process.”

Since McDaniel's loss to the six-term incumbent by roughly 7,700 votes in a June 24 runoff, his camp has insisted that he was done in largely by a cynical campaign to turn out black Democrats to vote against him.

McDaniel is asking a state court judge to review his complaint, which includes allegations of improper voting in the runoff by those who cast ballots in the Democratic primary earlier in June as well as the mishandling of election records by poll workers.

He is also asking for an injunction against printing general election ballots bearing Cochran's name until the dispute is resolved.

Cochran's campaign maintains it won the election fairly, and says it is looking forward to defending its victory in court.

"After many weeks of posturing and press conferences, and political stunts, we have finally reached the point where this matter will be settled by the courts," the law firm representing Cochran's campaign said in a statement.

Cochran is set to face former Congressman Travis Childers, a Democrat, in the November general election, in a contest the incumbent is widely expected to win.

(Reporting by Emily Le Coz; Editing by Jonathan Kaminsky and Gunna Dickson)

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