PERRY/Who runs if Cochran doesn't?
Wednesday, July 31, 2013 1:00 AM
A Cochran re-election campaign would result in a dull political year for Mississippi in 2014. I wrote last week about why I believe U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran will seek re-election in 2014. But were he to forgo another term, the result could create an historic Republican primary and perhaps a contested general election with several millions spent on campaigns and media to woo voters.
Republicans often mentioned as candidates include Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, Auditor Stacey Pickering, state Sen. Chris McDaniel of Laurel, Lt. Governor Tate Reeves, U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper and Alan Nunnelee, and Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Mike Randolph (judicial positions are nonpartisan but Randolph would like run under the GOP banner).
Hosemann makes no secret he is interested and has been raising money for a potential bid. Sources say fundraising includes a federal PAC which I presume falls under the "exploratory" FEC rules that allow a candidate to raise and spend funds for travel, polling and expenses related to considering a run. Hosemann would not have to file disclosures on his exploratory federal PAC unless he actually ran for the Senate.
Hosemann has federal campaign experience as the Republican nominee for Congress in 1998 in the old Fourth Congressional District; Ronnie Shows (D) won that race.
Hosemann's decision to not speak at this year's Neshoba County Fair raised some political speculation, but apparently he had prior family commitments. His campaign materials have sprouted up around the Fairgrounds.
Pickering enjoys statewide name identification not only from his two terms as Auditor, but also due to a previous Attorney General and U.S. Senate campaign by his uncle Charles Pickering (who served as state Republican Party Chairman and later a federal district and a Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge), and his cousin Chip Pickering who served six terms in Congress from Mississippi's Third District.
As Auditor, Stacey Pickering's job has been rooting out corruption and bringing reform to government - a natural campaign platform for the Senate. Pickering considered a run for lieutenant governor in 2011 but opted for reelection.
Supporters have urged McDaniel, an attorney and vocal conservative in the state Senate, to run for US Senate. Scott Brewster, who served as Mississippi's coordinator for Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign in 2012, launched a Facebook group on the matter with over 1400 followers. McDaniel holds the legislative seat formerly held by Pickering.
Reeves seems content to enjoy Cochran's service to Mississippi for another six years and does not appear to be positioning himself for a potential campaign. However, were Cochran to announce his retirement, Reeves would certainly look at the opportunity and be a frontrunner if he chose to pursue it.
Were Hosemann or Pickering to ultimately win, Gov. Phil Bryant would appoint their replacements. Were McDaniel to win, there would a special election for his seat. A Reeves victory would make Senate President Pro Tem Terry Brown of Columbus "acting lieutenant governor." Brown ran for lieutenant governor in 1999.
Hosemann, Pickering, McDaniel or Reeves could run without vacating their current offices.
If Harper or Nunnelee got in the race, either could not simultaneously seek re-election to their current congressional seats which would launch competitive elections further driving up political attention, spending and activity in the Magnolia State.
Both of them, obviously, have federal campaign experience, but I think Harper, currently in his third term, is a more likely candidate of the two to get in the race. I would anticipate support for Harper from Gov. Bryant's political machine. But Harper might opt for the safe return to Congress rather than a gamble for the Senate.
Randolph's likelihood of entering the race would accelerate were Harper not to run. Randolph's campaign structure and operatives come from the Bryant-Harper camp. Randolph would have to resign from the Court in order to run and because more than half his term would remain, his vacancy would be filled by a special election in November of 2014.
Democrat names tossed about include former Gov. and current Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove who lost a special US Senate election in 2008 to Roger Wicker, and Attorney General Jim Hood.
Were he not to seek re-election, I expect Cochran would resign early to allow Gov. Bryant to appoint his successor and provide Mississippi an advantage in seniority over other Senators taking office in January 2015. Cochran's predecessor, Sen. Jim Eastland, did just that in December 1978 with Gov. Cliff Finch appointing Cochran.
But all this speculation rests on Cochran's decision. The sure way to ensure a seniority advantage is for him to seek re-election.
His full page, color ad in the Neshoba County Fair's daily newspaper (covering Mississippi's top political event of the year) features a vintage picture of Cochran speaking at the Fair with the message "Still going STRONG." I think he will continue that strength by running for re-election.
Brian Perry is a columnist for the Madison County Journal and a partner with Capstone Public Affairs, LLC. Reach him at email@example.com or @CapstonePerry on Twitter.