To borrow a line from W.C. Fields, the rumors of Thad Cochan's retirement have been greatly exaggerated.  The future of the senior Senator from Mississippi creates much conversation and consternation in the Republican political parlor games of who runs for what next.  But such speculation has been ongoing for years.

Leading up to the 2002 election, politicos speculated on whether Cochran would run again and if not, who would be the candidates seeking to replace him.  Cochran ran again and won with greater than 85 percent of the vote.  After Governor Haley Barbour took office in 2004, politicos wondered who he would pick for the Senate if Cochran retired early.  Cochran did not retire early and in 2008 Cochran ran again and won again. Now, two years before Cochran's current term is up in 2014, the game begins anew.

Journalist Geoff Pender recently listed out a who's-who of names "at least toying with the idea of a run."  Pender mentioned, "Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, State Auditor Stacey Pickering, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, Supreme Court Justice Mike Randolph, former Govs. Ronnie Musgrove and Ray Mabus, state Sens. Chris McDaniel and Michael Watson, U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper - you get the picture."

While not yet making an announcement as to his future, my rule of thumb on incumbents is they are running for re-election until they decide they are not.  Cochran has been making the rounds at MSGOP events including keynoting the United Republican Fund reception at the Mississippi Republican Party State Convention this year, various county events and hosting a re-election fundraiser at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida.  The presumption and preparation of making a run in 2014 by one or more of the names mentioned by Pender has irritated Cochran loyalists - if not the Senator himself.

Were Cochran to run again, it would not be surprising given maturity of the GOP as the dominate party in Mississippi and the actions of national organizations in other states to imagine a primary challenge.  State elected officials who would not be required to give up their current seats to run, and who after securing contributions and supporters on the premise of "if Thad doesn't run" may decide they have the clout to mount a challenge (and gamble "all in" on their political future).  Were Cochran to not run again, his supporters would not want it to appear he was chased out of the race, a legacy that still follows his predecessor Jim Eastland. 

Cochran's longevity in the Senate would not be easily replaced for decades.  A Republican return to the majority after 2014 could return him to the Chairmanship of Senate Appropriations.  Constrained by term limits as ranking member there, Cochran is positioned to claim the ranking member position on the Senate Agriculture Committee.  But Cochran's seniority presents another position he could achieve if reelected in 2014.

Dick Lugar of Indiana, currently the most senior Republican U.S. Senator, lost reelection in a Republican Primary challenge this year to Tea Party supported state Treasurer Richard Mourdock (who lost to Democrat Joe Donnelly in a major "red state" upset).  The GOP's number two senior Senator - Orrin Hatch of Utah - turned away his own Tea Party challenge and won his primary and general election this year for what he announced would be his final term.

For Mississippi that means a Cochran reelection in 2014 gives the state an added bonus in a future Republican controlled U.S. Senate.  If Cochran is reelected, then come the final two years of his next term, he will be the most senior Republican Senator in the country, which under a Republican controlled Senate would make him president pro-tem. 

Mississippi is not unaccustomed to securing this position which along with the Speaker of the House and the Vice President is one of three Constitutionally mandated legislative leadership offices.  The position serves as President of the Senate when the Vice President of the United States is unavailable.  It is third in line in Presidential succession after the Vice President and Speaker of the House and before Secretary of State.  Four Mississippians have held the position (tying in number with Connecticut, Michigan, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee) with only three states producing more Presidents pro tem (New Hampshire with six, Georgia with six and Virginia with seven).  Most recently, Mississippians held the office in 1989 with John C. Stennis and before him in 1978 with Jim Eastland, the man Cochran succeeded in office.

Cochran has the name identification, financial resources and political network to run and win again in 2014 if he chooses, and he is in a position to wait until he chooses to announce his future plans.  I've always wondered what Cochran would do if not in the Senate - without motivation to the contrary I expect he'll seek another term.

Brian Perry is a partner with Capstone Public Affairs, LLC and a columnist for the Madison County Journal.  Reach him at reasonablyright@brianperry.ms or @CapstonePerry on Twitter.