By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran has said he will decide by the end of this month whether he will seek re-election next year.
While most of the attention has focused on his already-announced Republican challenger, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, and other Republicans who might run if Cochran bows out, Democrats will likely field one or more candidates if Mississippi’s senior senator retires.
Several of the Democrats mentioned as possible candidates in the event Cochran doesn’t run are Northeast Mississippi politicians – Attorney General Jim Hood of Houston, Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley of Nettleton and former U.S. Rep. Travis Childers of Booneville.
Any or all would enter as underdogs in a state that has established itself in recent years as solidly Republican.
Presley, the Northern District Public Service commissioner, noted that an open Senate seat does not occur often in Mississippi, making the Cochran decision particularly interesting and important. Since the 1940s, the state has had only five U.S. senators.
“Yes, I am watching,” Presley said. “I have had a lot of phone calls, people saying this is a race you could win based on your work at the PSC. At this point I am not shutting the door, but I am not kicking it in either. I am trying to do my job.”
Presley, who is in his second term on the public utilities regulatory commission, stressed he would not run if Cochran runs again.
Childers, who served in the U.S. House and before then as chancery clerk of Prentiss County, also has voiced interest in running, more so if Cochran retires.
“I’d be far more interested in looking at it if he is not a candidate,” Childers recently told The Associated Press.
Many believe another Northeast Mississippi Democrat – Hood – would be a formidable contender should he choose to pursue the seat.
He has won three statewide elections for attorney general despite aggressive efforts by the state Republican Party to oust him.
He currently is Mississippi’s only statewide elected Democrat.
In response to inquiries, Hood said, “Right now, I’m focused on serving our citizens as attorney general.”
Former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, who lost a Senate race to Roger Wicker in 2008, also has been viewed as a possible candidate as has former Gov. Ray Mabus, current secretary of he Navy.
A spokesman said, “Governor Musgrove has a lot on his plate right now and really has not considered challenging Senator Cochran.”
Asked about a scenario where Cochran did not run, the spokesman said “that would be a hypothetical,” referring to Musgrove’s oft-repeated phrase when he was in office in response to questions by probing reporters.
But it is not a hypothetical that many people are eagerly awaiting a decision by Cochran.
It was reported earlier this month that Cochran would announce by the end of November whether he is running.
Chris Gallegos, a spokesman for the senator, has since clarified that while Cochran said he would make a decision by the end of the month, that did not necessarily mean he would announce that decision in November.
Gallegos said, “The senator has not given me an indication of when he might make his announcement.”
If Cochran does retire, numerous Republican politicians, in addition to McDaniel, a Tea Party favorite, are expected to vie for the seat.
Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann is a likely candidate and already is raising money on the federal level.
Other possible candidates are Auditor Stacey Pickering and U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves has been mentioned as a possible candidate, as has U.S. Rep. Alan Nunnelee of Tupelo.
Jordan Russell, a Nunnelee spokesman, said, “Mr. Nunnelee is not going to engage in hypotheticals. He hopes Senator Cochran decides to run again.” A Nunnelee run might be less likely because both he and the state’s other U.S. senator – Wicker – are from Tupelo.
The Republican, whether it is Cochran or someone else, will be a heavy favorite in the November 2014 general election.
For a period of time, the formula for a Democrat to win a statewide election was to do well in Northeast Mississippi. But in recent election cycles, the only Democrat to make that formula work has been Hood.