Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour says an endorsement by NFL legend Brett Favre for Barbour-backed incumbent senator Thad Cochran has nothing to do with a 2012 pardon given to Favre’s brother for vehicular manslaughter.
Supporters of Cochran’s challenger, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, are accusing Barbour of calling in a favor to Favre, a native of Mississippi with tremendous pull there.
“I think any reasonable person would ponder the question as to whether governor Barbour’s pardon of Brett Favre’s brother on a drunk driving manslaughter conviction might have some bearing on Brett Favre’s eleventh hour endorsement of Thad Cochran,” Miss. state Sen. Angela Hill told The Daily Caller.
On Jan. 10, 2012, on his last day as governor, Barbour pardoned Scott Favre, who was convicted of vehicular manslaughter in the 1996 drunk driving death of his best friend, Mark Haverty.
On Thursday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a group with which Barbour is closely aligned, released an ad — which is being called “the Hail Mary” ad — in which Favre endorsed the 76-year old Cochran, who faces McDaniel in a June 24 primary run-off.
The two are engaged in perhaps the ugliest GOP campaign battle in recent memory.
“I’ve learned through football that strong leadership makes the difference between winning and losing,” said a heavily bearded Favre in the ad. “And when it comes to our state’s future, trust me: Mississippi can win and win big with Thad Cochran.”
“Thad Cochran always delivers, just like he did during Katrina,” said Favre, who now coaches football in Hattiesburg, Miss.
The future Hall of Famer has not been particularly politically active in the past. His only recorded activity was a $4,800 campaign contribution to Mississippi conservative Democrat Gene Taylor’s 2010 House re-election bid.
Other McDaniel supporters think something is awry.
“It certainly appears as if Haley Barbour is trading pardons for endorsements for his big government pal Thad Cochran,” Tupelo Tea Party founder Grant Sowell told TheDC.
But Barbour denies any connection.
“Haven’t talked to Brett Favre for years,” Barbour told TheDC via email. “I haven’t seen the TV spot and had nothing to do with it. Other than that, I don’t know anything about it.”
In 1997, Scott Favre, who is older than Brett, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for his role in Haverty’s death, which occurred when Favre drove drunk in front of an on-coming train. Fourteen years of that sentence were suspended, and Favre ended up with only one year of house arrest and two years’ probation.
Barbour drew public criticism when he pardoned not only Favre but also around 200 other felons, some of whom had been convicted of murder and rape.
Barbour defended the move, saying at the time that he wanted to “allow them to find gainful employment or acquire professional licenses as well as hunt and vote.”
Favre also defended his brother Scott in a 1997 interview with Playboy.
“This was a mistake between two buddies,” he said. “I mean, there’s nothing good about drinking and driving, but who hasn’t done it?”
The speculation from McDaniel supporters likely stems from both Barbour and the Chamber’s heavy backing of Cochran in his battle against McDaniel, who also works as an attorney.
Barbour told TheDC that he is helping the Mississippi Conservatives PAC, which the former governor said, “I don’t believe is airing the spot.”
The Chamber gave $100,000 to Mississippi Conservatives PAC, which is headed by Henry Barbour, Haley’s nephew and a Republican National Committee member.
Another nephew, Austin Barbour, is a senior strategist for Cochran’s campaign.
According to Politico, the PAC has spent at least another $700,000 supporting Cochran, while the U.S. Chamber has put up $500,000 according to the Sunlight Foundation.
Both candidates have traded shots in what is one of the ugliest party primaries in recent memory.
The contentious race has exposed deep rifts within the Republican party, as it has pitted the quintessential establishment candidate against a staunch, small-government tea party favorite.
Like Barbour, Cochran is not opposed to bringing federal dollars back home to Mississippi. Both Barbour and the U.S. Chamber are proponents of immigration reform, which McDaniel opposes.
In May, it came to light that several men who supported McDaniel, some of whom had ties to his senate campaign, covered up their plan to photograph Cochran’s bed-ridden wife in her Mississippi nursing home.
The photo was taken and temporarily published on the internet before it was taken down.
Many McDaniel supporters have accused Cochran of being too “cozy” with one of his assistants.
Cochran also recently drew ridicule when he told a crowd at a campaign event that as a boy he “did indecent things with animals.”
The U.S. Chamber says that Barbour had nothing at all to do with the Favre ad.
“The decision to use Brett Favre and run the ad was ours and ours alone,” said Blair Holmes, the organization’s director of media relations.