Thad Cochran to run for 7th Senate term

Cochran will face a primary challenge from Chris McDaniel, a conservative state lawmaker. | AP Photo

By EMILY SCHULTHEIS | 12/6/13 11:31 AM EST Updated: 12/6/13 1:01 PM EST
Veteran Sen. Thad Cochran, a Republican from Mississippi, plans to seek a seventh term next year, POLITICO has confirmed. With a primary challenge from the right, this could prove to be his toughest race yet.
Cochran, the second most-senior Republican in the Senate, guarded his decision to seek reelection so closely that even Senate leaders and top officials at the National Republican Senatorial Committee didn’t know what he was planning until he shared it with the press. He kept the political world waiting for his decision throughout the fall: he originally said he’d make his decision by the end of November, but that deadline passed with no word from Cochran.

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A Cochran aide confirmed his decision to POLITICO on Friday morning. The senator first shared it an earlier interview with Gannett.

State insiders largely expected Cochran, who turns 76 on Saturday, to step down: campaign finance records show he raised just $53,000 in the third quarter of this year, not the kind of sum expected for a senator the fall before a reelection battle. Cochran had $804,000 on hand at the end of September.

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But Cochran also was reportedly getting pressure from state and national Republicans to stick around for one more term because, if the GOP were to take back the Senate next fall, Cochran could reclaim his position as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Cochran will face a primary challenge from state Sen. Chris McDaniel, a conservative state lawmaker who announced he was running for the seat earlier this fall. Observers say Cochran, with his long history in the state, should be able to get reelected despite the challenge from McDaniel, not least because he’ll have the support of the GOP establishment and the Mississippi business community in a state that’s traditionally had little turnover in the Senate.

McDaniel welcomed Cochran to the race in a statement Friday afternoon.

“Sen. Cochran has had a long and distinguished career representing the people of Mississippi,” he said. “I look forward to a positive campaign based on the future of our state, our country and the Republican Party. As a strong conservative, I will fight to bring those values to Washington.”

Andy Taggart, an attorney and veteran Republican in the state, said he believes Cochran will “handily defeat” McDaniel in the state’s June 3 primary.

“[Cochran] has served honorably and well — he has no political enemies in the state,” he said.
Still, this race is likely to be tougher than any reelection battle Cochran has had thus far. McDaniel has the backing of groups such as the Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund, which are known for endorsing conservative or tea party challengers to incumbent Republicans. Both groups have already aired TV ads boosting him, and Cochran’s entrance into the race means those groups are likely to turn their fire on him.

Chris Chocola, president of the Club for Growth, wasted no time in criticizing some of Cochran’s votes and decisions in office.

“Throughout his over 40 years in Washington, Sen. Thad Cochran has done some good things for Mississippi, but he’s also done some bad things,” Chocola said, pointing to Cochran’s support for earmarks and votes to confirm “liberal” Supreme Court justices. “Fortunately, Republicans in Mississippi have a real choice for the United States Senate this year. They can vote for Sen. Cochran, or they can vote for a more fiscally conservative alternative who is dedicated to limited government and passing policies that will increase economic growth.”

SCF Executive Director Matt Hoskins praised McDaniel in a statement Friday morning but didn’t take any shots at Cochran directly.

“Our members in Mississippi like Chris McDaniel because he will fight to stop the massive spending, bailouts, and debt that are destroying our country,” he said. “We’re going to do everything we can to help him get his message out so voters know they have a choice.”

A poll from the Democratic-leaning firm Public Policy Polling in late November suggested Cochran will have a real race against McDaniel. In a two-way matchup, Cochran would have just a 6-point lead, 44 percent to 38 percent. When asked if they want to vote for Cochran or “someone more conservative,” 55 percent of GOP primary voters chose the generic more conservative option.

Now that Cochran is running again, the handful of other state pols who were considering the race will likely stay out. State Auditor Stacey Pickering and Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, for example, had said they would run if Cochran retired, and U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves were other possible candidates.