Elections

Thad Cochran is out. Who will jump in the Senate race to replace him?

Republican U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi is resigning.
Republican U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi is resigning. AP file

The race for U.S. Senate just got another jolt.

Thad Cochran, R-Miss, the senior senator from Mississippi and the chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, on Monday announced his intention to resign from the U.S. Senate effective April 1. That decision could draw candidates from the race against Sen. Roger Wicker.

Wicker’s main primary challenger, Chris McDaniel, has said he would consider leaving the June 5 GOP primary to run for what would essentially be an open seat. Monday, though, he said he just wanted to wish Cochran the best in his retirement.

“Sen. Cochran’s a legend,” he said. “He and I may disagree on things politically but he has my respect.”

He said he watching the news unfold and trying to determine his course of action.

“I’ll probably be making those decisions for some time,” he said. “There is no way to know what the next day or two is going to hold.”

Rep. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, the House minority leader and a candidate in the crowded Democratic Primary for Wicker’s seat, sounded like he’s staying put.

“As a Mississippian, I appreciate all of the years of service that Senator Cochran has provided to our state,” he said in a text message. “I have announced that I am running for the Senate seat currently held by Roger Wicker and have been humbled by the outpouring of support that I have received.

“I am focused on winning the race that I have entered.”

The Mississippi Coast got a preview in October 2017 of how state Sen. Chris McDaniel's 2018 campaign for Senate would be fought. He spoke at McElroy's in Ocean Springs.

The race for Wicker’s spot has crowded fields on both sides.

In the Democratic Primary, Baria faces House colleague Omeria Scott of Laurel, Howard Sherman of Meridian, Victor G. Maurice Jr. of Pass Christian, Jerone Garland of Kosiusko and Jensen Bohren of Benton.

On the Republican side, there’s Richard Boyanton of Diamondhead, McDaniel and Wicker.

“I regret my health has become an ongoing challenge,” Cochran said in a press release. “I intend to fulfill my responsibilities and commitments to the people of Mississippi and the Senate through the completion of the 2018 appropriations cycle, after which I will formally retire from the U.S. Senate.

“It has been a great honor to serve the people of Mississippi and our country. I’ve done my best to make decisions in the best interests of our nation, and my beloved state. My top concern has always been my constituents in Mississippi. My hope is by making this announcement now, a smooth transition can be ensured so their voice will continue to be heard in Washington, D.C. My efforts, and those of my staff, to assist them will continue and transfer to my successor.”

Gov. Phil Bryant likely will appoint a replacement then call a special election for Nov. 6, the day of the general election, to pick someone to serve out the remainder of his term.

He tweeted an appreciation but gave no immediate indication of what his plans are.

“Today, one of Mississippi’s greatest public servants shared with me his plans to retire,” the governor tweeted. “@SenThadCochran’s service ushered in an era of unprecedented influence for our state and will benefit generations to come.”

U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran speaks on June 12, 2014, to a group of about 30 players at Empire Truck Sales in Richland, Mississippi. Cochran touted his work getting road and infrastructure funds.

Paul Hampton: 228-284-7296, @JPaulHampton

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