By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Mississippi political observers played an intently watched guessing game for most of 2013: Will Thad Cochran run for re-election in 2014?
For most of the year, the six-term Republican U.S. senator kept everyone guessing. Then, finally, in early December, the Pontotoc County native announced with no fanfare to a Washington, D.C., reporter that he would indeed be a candidate for re-election.
Later that day, Cochran sent out a statement, saying, “I will run hard and be successful so that I can continue to serve the people of Mississippi and our nation effectively.”
His announcement sent the political wheels in the state spinning. Republicans such as Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann and Auditor Stacey Pickering, who were eying a Senate campaign if Cochran did not run, sent out news releases in support of and praising the 76-year-old Mississippi political icon.
And Democrats, who realize their chances of unseating Cochran are slim at best, were left trying to determine their next move, and still are.
The only person not playing the Cochran guessing game was state Sen. Chris McDaniel, D-Ellisville, a Tea Party favorite who announced earlier in the year he was running regardless of what the incumbent did.
Cochran, who is in line to reassume the powerful post of Appropriations chair if the Republicans regain the Senate in 2014, has the backing of the state’s Republican establishment.
McDaniel has the backing of various national Tea Party-affiliated groups, such as the Tea Party Express and Freedom Works. The national groups already have been running television ads across the state introducing the little-known McDaniel to the electorate even though the Republican primary where the two will square off is not until June.
Some public polls place McDaniel within striking distance of Cochran. Whether those polls are accurate is the quandary for Democrats, who privately admit they would have a difficult time defeating Cochran in a November general election, but believe they would have a chance against McDaniel.
In 2014, a new, shorter-lived guessing game will be who on the Democratic side will enter the race? The qualifying deadline is March 1.