Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) on Capitol Hill in Washington. (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated…)
WASHINGTON -- One of the Senate’s longest-serving Republicans said Friday that he would seek reelection in 2014, setting up another intraparty test between the party’s old guard and tea party forces.
Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran’s decision to seek a seventh term – revealed on the eve of his 76th birthday -- was something of a surprise. He raised just more than $53,000 in the most recent fundraising period, and has only $800,000 in the bank. Chris McDaniel, a 41-year-old state senator, entered the race in October and has begun actively campaigning and picking up endorsements.
Cochran said in a statement that he would “run hard and be successful so that I can continue to serve the people of Mississippi and our nation effectively."
Only Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch has served longer than Cochran among Republicans. He is fourth overall in seniority in the U.S. Senate, a distinction that no longer carries the importance it once did in the body.
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As the top Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, he has been deeply involved with negotiations with the House over a compromise on the farm bill, an effort that has been complicated by newer fiscal hawks in the GOP who are intent on separating food stamps from agriculture subsidies. The pairing of those issues in the past has provided the bipartisan coalition needed to ensure passage.
Cochran also served as the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee, a once-powerful perch that now is at the heart of conservative criticisms of the veteran lawmaker.
“Throughout his over 40 years in Washington, Sen. Thad Cochran has done some good things for Mississippi, but he’s also done some bad things,” said Chris Chocola, president of the conservative Club For Growth, which has endorsed McDaniel in the Senate primary. “He voted to bail out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, voted repeatedly to raise the debt limit by trillions of dollars, and even voted against a resolution that stated Congress has a ‘moral obligation’ to cut spending.”
"Sen. Cochran has had a long and distinguished career representing the people of Mississippi,” McDaniel said in a statement. “I look forward to a positive campaign based on the future of our state, our country and the Republican Party. As a strong conservative, I will fight to bring those values to Washington."
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The Republican primary is June 3. Whoever emerges from the Republican primary would be a heavy favorite to keep the seat in the general election. No Democrat has entered yet, but Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report said that the prospect now of a “bruising” Republican primary could draw more interest from prospective candidates. Possible candidates could include Ray Mabus, the former two-term governor who now serves as secretary of the Navy.
Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the minority leader, also face significant primary opposition in 2014 from candidates running to their right. Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) also faces a challenge from Liz Cheney, daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney.
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