BOBBY HARRISON: Speculation swirls around Cochran in state politics

BOBBY HARRISON

BOBBY HARRISON

JACKSON

Chris McDaniel’s campaign to upend U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran in next June’s Republican Party primary already is going full blast.

He is racking up endorsements from national insurgent conservative groups, such as the Tea Party Express and Freedom Works, like Peyton Manning has been throwing touchdown passes for the Denver Broncos and hawking pizza on the side.

Presumably, those groups will give McDaniel the funds needed to run a credible campaign.

Now, the question is what will Cochran do? Will he run again? He has not tipped his hand, and those who offer speculation on the Pontotoc County native’s future plans are doing just that, offering speculation.

Perhaps, the former chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee is not sure yet whether at age 75 he wants to engage in probably his most hotly contested race since 1984 when he garnered 61 percent of the vote to defeat William Winter, who had just completed his governorship, to win a second Senate term.

It is incredible to think that Cochran first was elected to the post in 1978 with a plurality of only 45 percent of the vote, but in the five following re-election campaigns his 1984 contest against Winter was the closest.

Regardless of what happens next year, Cochran is truly one of the icons of Mississippi politics.

One question, at this point, might be whether Cochran would have the stomach for what will be an aggressive campaign by out-of-state groups intent on electing what they perceive to be more conservatives who are less willing to try to find common ground.

Many other questions surround the Senate race. For instance, when will Cochran announce his intentions? And what happens if he does not seek re-election?

It is obvious that if Cochran runs for a seventh term McDaniel will be his only opponent of any consequence. A Democrat may run, but not one who has a legitimate chance of beating Cochran – mainly because that person does not exist.

But if he does not run, it will be a totally different story. Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann has made his intentions clear, and he already has been raising money on the federal level for such an opportunity.

Because Hosemann has statewide name recognition – having won two statewide contests for secretary of state – and because he is raising funds for a federal election, a late announcement by Cochran might put Hosemann in the proverbial political catbird’s seat.

Of course, most speculate that Auditor Stacey Pickering would be interested, U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper of Rankin County and, perhaps even Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves also have been cited as possible contenders. Obviously, those people are all Republicans.

A Democrat would be a longshot to win the contest. The obvious names are former governors Ronnie Musgrove and Ray Mabus, who is currently secretary of the Navy. Another potential candidate could be former U.S. Rep. Travis Childers of Booneville in Northeast Mississippi.

Childers does not have the name recognition statewide, but he has a common-man appeal and is a tenacious campaigner.

The bottom line is that everyone, except state Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville, is waiting on Cochran.

Bobby Harrison is the Daily Journal’s Capitol Bureau chief. Contact him at bobby.harrison@journalinc.com or (601) 353-3119.