U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran of Oxford announced today he will seek re-election to a seventh term in 2014, pledging to “run hard and be successful.”
Several hours after initial reports this morning of his intention to seek re-election, Cochran issued a statement this afternoon. The veteran Republican senator said, “I will run for re-election to the United States Senate. I will run hard and be successful so that I can continue to serve the people of Mississippi and our nation effectively.”
Cochran, who will be 76 on Saturday, faces a Republican Party challenge from the right by state Sen. Chris McDaniel.
His decision comes after months of public and private speculation, as well as potential candidates’ reaching out to gauge their viability if the former U.S. House member decided to retire.
“Our nation and the State of Mississippi continue to face many challenges and opportunities,” he said. “We must work to defend our national security interests, roll back burdensome policies like Obamacare, continue the fight to reduce our national debt and create opportunities for more jobs and economic growth.”
The Pontotoc native, first elected to the Senate in 1978, is his party’s ranking member of the important Agriculture Committee, which is wrestling with the future of a long-awaited farm bill.
“I am glad Sen. Cochran is running for re-election and I, like thousands of Mississippians, had encouraged him to do so,” Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said in a statement. “He is the father of the conservative Republican takeover of Mississippi, and his wisdom will be an asset to the conservative cause as long as he serves.
“We as Republicans have a major fight in Washington to unwind the Obama agenda in the next six years, and we need our best minds on the job. I hope all Republicans will rally behind Thad Cochran.”
When the GOP was in the Senate majority, Cochran was chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee. Today, he is a senior member on Appropriations and vice chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.
His election to the U.S. Senate in 1978 marked the first Republican win in more than 100 years in a Mississippi statewide election.
Recently, fellow Republican and former Gov. Haley Barbour said he hoped Cochran would run again.
In mid-October, 42-year-old McDaniel of Ellisville announced his candidacy with strong financial backing from national supporters Tea Party-oriented groups.
After Cochran announced his plans to run again, through his campaign, McDaniel said, “Sen. Cochran has had a long and distinguished career representing the people of Mississippi. 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.”
Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, another Republican, had said he would run if Cochran did not. But on Friday, it appeared that McDaniel would be the only Republican to challenge the incumbent.
Hosemann said, “From the Natchez Trace to the agriculture research in the Mississippi Delta, from Katrina recovery on the Coast to the University Medical Center, Mississippians do not need to go far to see the work Sen. Cocrahn has accomplished for our state.I look forward to supporting his re-election.”
Auditor Stacey Pickering, who also was considering a campaign for the slot, said soon after the news broke, ”Congratulations to Sen. Thad Cochran in his decision to seek re-election. I look forward to his continued service to the great state of Mississippi. Sen. Cochran has been the epitome of an honorable statesman and we are better off because of his service.”
U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper, a Rankin County Republican, said, “Sidney and I are absolutely thrilled about Thad’s decision to seek re-election to the U.S. Senate. A true statesman, Sen. Cochran has dedicated his life to serving the people of Mississippi. Thad has my family’s full support. And Mississippi needs his leadership in the U.S. Senate now more than ever.”
U.S. Rep. Alan Nunnelee, a Republican from Lee County, called Cochran’s re-election bid “fantastic news. His steady leadership has helped guide our nation through good times and bad. He never wavers from his principles and always puts Mississippi first.
“As the first Republican to win statewide office since the end of Reconstruction, he paved the way for the Mississippi GOP, and we are all standing on his broad shoulders. Senator Cochran has consistently carried the conservative banner, and during these difficult times we need his strong voice more than ever.”
The state’s junior senator, Republican Roger Wicker of Tupelo, also praised Cochran’s decision.
“I am delighted that Sen. Cochran has decided to run for another term in the U.S. Senate,” Wicker said. “The people of Mississippi need his experience and proven conservative leadership more than ever. Thad’s work on behalf of Mississippi is a testament to his selfless dedication to our state and its future. He has my full support.”
On the Democratic side, Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley, who has been viewed as a possible candidate for the Senate seat, said he was focused on speaking at a memorial this afternoon for former Gov. Bill Allain and “had not given it any thought” to the Senate seat. Attorney General Jim Hood said, “We respect Sen. Cochran’s decision to seek a seventh term. Should he be successful, we look forward to him continuing his service to the citizens of Mississippi.”
Another Democrat, who has expressed interest in the post, U.S. Rep. Travis Childers, could not be reached.
All party candidates have until March 1 to qualify to place their names on the primary ballot.
The Mississippi seat is considered safely Republican, so the winner of the June 3 primary will be a heavy favorite in the Nov. 4 general election, although Democrats see this as their first opportunity in many years to re-take the post.
Cochran, who earned his psychology degree and law degree from the University of Mississippi, was praised at home and panned in more conservative quarters for the federal funds he consistently brought back to his state.
Most so-called “ear marks” were outlawed in Congress in 2010, and some capital observers blame their loss on fueling the lack of bipartisanship there today.
The U.S. Navy veteran got his initiation into politics in 1951, when he accompanied his mother door-to-door as she campaigned for a statewide candidate.
In 1971, Cochran was Hinds County chairman for Brad Dye’s victory for state treasurer, and he reportedly wrote talking points and issue briefs that same year for Charles Sullivan’s campaign for governor. Both candidates were Democrats.
Three years before, he’d been executive director of Mississippi Citizens for Nixon-Agnew, the GOP ticket for the White House, during a tumultuous political year when Mississippi’s traditional white Democrats were kicked out of the national presidential convention.
After law school, Cochran went into private law practice.
In 1972, Cochran was elected to the U.S. House from the 4th District, which included 12 counties in southwest Mississippi.
In the House, he pursued interests in economic development, transportation, flood control, energy and ethics. He was re-elected two more times.
In the Senate he has served across a wide range of influential committees.
Cochran is especially known for using his influence to fund research facilities at Mississippi’s universities, including energy, agriculture, and forestry facilities at Mississippi State University; the School of Polymers and High Performance Materials at the University of Southern Mississippi; the National Center for Natural Products Research, the Center for Water and Wetlands Research, and the Food Service Management Institute at the University of Mississippi; the National Warmwater Aquaculture Research Center at Stoneville; and the Jackson Heart Study at Jackson State University, Tougaloo College and the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
After years of support for defense and military programs, Cochran was presented the Navy Distinguished Public Service Award by fellow Mississippian, U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus.
Cochran also used his seniority to secure more than $87 billion in supplemental federal aid to states affected by Hurricane Katrina and helped develop the “Restore the Gulf Coast Act” after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill. In 2011, he received the Mississippi Medal of Service.
Cochran and his wife, the former Rose Clayton, were married in 1964 in New Albany. They have two children and three grandchildren.