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By Lisa Mascaro, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Tea party official Mark Mayfield, charged in connection with a scandal involving photos of Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran’s ailing wife, has been found dead and police said they suspect suicide.

Ridgeland Police Chief Jimmy Houston said the body of Mayfield, who was an attorney, was found Friday morning at his house outside Jackson, Miss., and that a suicide note was found at the scene, The Associated Press reported.

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant released a statement early Friday.

Bryant said he and his wife Deborah “are saddened to hear of the loss of Mark Mayfield. He was a longtime friend, and he will be missed. Our prayers go out to his family in this tragic moment.”

Mayfield, an attorney who lived in Ridgeland, a suburb north of the state capital in Jackson, had been implicated in a bizarre campaign episode that became a focal point of the bitter race between incumbent Cochran and his tea party challenger Chris McDaniel.

A blogger, who was a McDaniel supporter, was arrested on suspicion of entering the nursing home of the senator’s ailing wife, Rose, and taking a photograph of her without her permission. The photo was briefly posted online and four people, including Mayfield, were arrested.

The McDaniel campaign strongly disavowed the incident, but it became a centerpiece of the brutal campaign that ended this week with Cochran’s narrow victory. Television ads supporting the senator said the incident raised questions about McDaniel’s character.

McDaniel has refused to concede the race, and is considering options for challenging the votes of Democrats, including African-American voters, who were courted by the Cochran team in an unorthodox strategy to bolster turnout for the Tuesday runoff.

Mayfield was a leader in local tea party circles and the Republican Party, and was known by many political operatives in the state. He was married, with children.

Screenshot: WAPT News

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