WASHINGTON, July 11 (UPI) -- A Mississippi man who accused the Thad Cochran campaign of paying African-Americans to vote for the senator in his primary runoff last month is walking back his story.
Stevie Fielder told California-based blogger Charles C. Johnson he was asked to buy votes for $15 a pop in the June 24 runoff between Cochran and state Sen. Chris McDaniel.
Now, he's saying he never paid anyone to vote, saying the conversations he claimed he had with Cochran campaign staffers Kirk Sims and Amanda Shook were "hypothetical" and the interview with Johnson was edited.
"What was said and what was recorded on that tape was not meant to show in any way that I took anyone to the polls and voted," Fielder said Thursday. "Nor did Mr. Cochran and them ask me to do that, not Kirk or any of his other people."
Fielder has maintained that someone in the campaign "wanted to do that" (the vote buying), but said he doesn't "think now is the right time" to reveal that person's identity.
"I'm giving them the opportunity to tell it themselves," he said. "I know it it was mentioned to me and I refused to do it. Right now I'm not saying it was someone in the campaign, and I'm not saying it was not."
He has refused to confirm if that person is Saleem Baird, the minority outreach director for Cochran's campaign and a staffer for Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., although he named Baird in his original interview with Johnson.
But Thursday, he stood by a claim that the Cochran campaign promised to pay him $16,000, but stiffed him. The campaign says it hired Fielder for get-out-the-vote work, but only offered him $600, half up front, and that he failed to follow through.
McDaniel, the tea party conservative who narrowly beat Cochran in the Republican primary on June 3, has refused to concede the race despite trailing by nearly 7,000 votes in the runoff. He claims Democrats voted illegally by "double voting": casting ballots in the Democratic primary and then a Republican runoff.
Mississippi state law allows voters of one party to participate in a runoff of another, so long as "he intends to support the nominations made in which he participates." In practice, that usually means someone who voted in a Democratic primary could not then turn around and vote in the Republican runoff, but it is very difficult to prove that a voter did not intend to follow through and vote for the Republican in a general election. The Cochran campaign has denied the allegations of fraud, of either kind.
"As we've said from the beginning, we would not, and have not been, involved in any vote buying, and I'm glad that Mr. Fielder cleared that up," said Cochran campaign spokesman Jordan Russell on Thursday. "There is no evidence of that. We didn't do it. Saleem didn't do it."
"There is one guy, in the whole state, who said something, then turns around and recants. If we were buying votes, others would be saying it."
McDaniel's campaign, meanwhile, has continued investigating claims of double voting, and though it has yet to file a legal challenge, it has offered rewards to anyone finding proof of voter fraud.
Conservative group True the Vote has filed a separate lawsuit, identifying 13 Democrats it says broke the law in voting for Cochran in the runoff.