By Emily Wagster Pettus
ELLISVILLE – Second-term state Sen. Chris McDaniel said Thursday that he’s running for the U.S. Senate in 2014, a decision that likely pits him against longtime incumbent Thad Cochran in the Republican primary.
Cochran turns 76 in December and is expected to announce late this year whether he’ll seek re-election to the Senate seat he first won in 1978. He has been raising money. Records filed this week show Cochran has $803,907 in campaign cash on hand.
McDaniel, 41, announced his intentions during a speech on the courthouse lawn in his hometown of Ellisville. McDaniel mentioned Cochran briefly during his 20-minute speech.
“I respect him. I grew up admiring him,” McDaniel said as 300 to 400 people sat in lawn chairs or stood under Magnolia trees as he spoke.
However, McDaniel criticized Cochran for voting Wednesday night to support a deal to reopen the federal government. McDaniel said conservatives should not compromise.
“I’ve got 17 trillion reasons not to compromise,” he said referring to the amount of the federal debt.
Cochran served six years in the U.S. House before becoming the first Republican since Reconstruction to win a statewide office in Mississippi when he was elected to the Senate. He is a past chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, bringing billions of federal dollars to the state for Hurricane Katrina recovery and other projects. He’s currently the top Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee.
Cochran was born in Pontotoc and grew up in Hinds County. He now has a home in Oxford.
If Cochran seeks re-election, many Republicans and Democrats say he would be difficult to defeat. If he decides not to run, the Senate race could attract several candidates who would see an open seat as a rare opportunity to run for an influential job.
Henry Barbour of Yazoo City, a member of the Republican National Committee, agrees Cochran is formidable.
“Senator Cochran has earned Mississippi’s trust through years of conservative leadership. He’s one of the few statesmen in Washington and was critically important for Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. He’s respected by all but a handful of Mississippians. And one of them has decided to run against him,” Barbour said.
One who disagrees is retired auctioneer Henry Foreman of Diamondhead who drove up from the Gulf Coast to hear McDaniel. He thinks Cochran has been in Washington too long.
“The government is just not a lifetime job,” Foreman said.
Foreman said he has taken a leave of absence from the Hancock County Republican Executive Committee so he can support McDaniel. Committee members are not supposed to take sides in political campaigns.
Foreman also criticized Cochran for bringing so much federal money to Mississippi. He said Cochran and others cannot account for where it is going.
“Right now we don’t need to be spending money the way we are spending it,” Foreman said.
McDaniel has been closely allied with tea party supporters and is chairman of the state Senate Conservative Coalition, which had 11 members when formed in June. McDaniel said at the time that despite the state Senate being controlled by Republicans, “All Republicans may not be conservative, just as all Democrats may not be liberal.”
In his speech McDaniel he wants to restore the Constitution, which he said is being ignored, reduce federal spending and repeal the Affordable Care Act.
“The lamps of liberty are going out across the Republic. Millions of people feel like strangers in the land,” McDaniel said.