BOBBY HARRISON: Cochran’s re-election decision could hinge on Tuesday’s vote

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – This year’s election season has been fairly mundane for Mississippi voters.
While voters in key swing states like Virginia, Ohio, Florida and Colorado get to see the presidential candidates up close – in countless television commercials – Mississippi voters are basically neglected. The reason, of course, is that we are “a safe state” for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
And some states that are not swing states in the presidential election at least have some exciting Senate elections, such as Massachusetts, Missouri and Arizona.
Here in Mississippi, though, most experts believe Romney will win in a landslide, as well as incumbent U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Tupelo, and the four incumbent members of the U.S. House.
At least in 2008, the state had a competitive U.S. House race in the 1st District, which encompasses Northeast Mississippi, and a spirited U.S. Senate race where recently appointed Wicker faced former Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, who were big pals when they both served in the state Legislature. Plus, there was the mystery of what impact President Barack Obama would have on turnout in a state that had the nation’s largest percentage of black voters.
As it turned out, it appeared that blacks did vote in record numbers in Mississippi, but whites voted against the Democratic presidential nominee by perhaps the largest margin in the state’s history.
But interestingly, the outcome of the national elections on Tuesday could impact the Mississippi political scene for 2014.
In 2014, Republican Thad Cochran, Mississippi’s senior senator, will be up for re-election. If Republicans gain control of the Senate in this year’s elections, Cochran is in line to chair the all-important Appropriations Committee.
Speculation is that Cochran, who will turn 75 on Pearl Harbor Day in December, will seek another term if Republicans capture the Senate this year. He would be hard-pressed to walk away from such a powerful post, which he held previously for two years before the Republicans lost the Senate in 2006.
But some believe Cochran will not seek another term if the Republicans do not gain a majority. According to various Internet sites that track election polling, odds are against the Republicans capturing the Senate onTuesday.
Talking Points Memo, a liberal-leaning blog, gives the Democrats 52 seats that are identified as safe, leaning Democrats or favoring Democrats. Republicans have 43 seats in the same three categories. Talking Points identifies fives seats as tossups – Wisconsin, Virginia, Nevada, Arizona, and Montana. It should be pointed out the 52 Democratic seats include two independents who are expected to caucus with them.
Real Clear Politics, considered a conservative blog, gives the Democrats a 46-44 edge. But when the tossups are divvied up – based on available polling – Real Clear gives the Democrats a 52-48 edge. The blog still puts Indiana in the Republican category, though many now believe the Democrats have an edge there because of the recent comments that the Republican made about rape and abortion.
But if Real Clear is right, the Democrats would lose one seat, but hold the majority. If that Democratic advantage holds on election day, the question is what will Cochran do in 2014?
Cochran was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1978 in a three-person race where he garnered a plurality of the vote. Since then, he has never received less than 60 percent.
Over multiple decades, he has remained a popular figure in Mississippi politics. During that time, he has probably done a better job than any other Mississippi Republican in garnering African-American support. In 2014, will Cochran attract an opponent in the Republican primary – perhaps from the Tea Party? If he is Appropriations chair, that is less likely to happen.
No doubt, whether he is Appropriations chair or not, Cochran would be a heavy favorite to win re-election. The question is would he want to run again?
If he decides it is time to step down, there will be a who’s who of Mississippi politics looking to replace him. Open Senate seats in Mississippi do not come along very often – only twice in nearly the past quarter century.
That is why what happens nationally on Tuesday could impact what happens in Mississippi in 2014. Stay tuned.
Bobby Harrison is Capitol Bureau chief in Jackson for the Daily Journal. Contact him at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@journalinc.com.