The Neshoba County Fair always generates political speculation on the ambitions, posturing and even policies of elected officials, candidates and would-be could-be candidates. For most of my professional career, pundits swap gossip on the future of U.S. Senator Thad Cochran. As Governor Kirk Fordice closed out his second term, folks speculated Cochran might run for Governor; he announced at the Fair he would not. Since then, it seems, every few months I would hear a new theory on whether he would run again, or retire and allow for an appointment. He never retires. He always runs again. So as his time to seek reelection or not approaches in the 2014 cycle, the speculation accelerates.

I believe Cochran will run again and win a sixth Senate term. His continued service benefits Mississippi. Currently he serves as Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. Were Republicans to regain control of the Senate, he could become chairman of that committee or regain the helm of the Senate Appropriations Committee. As he closed out his sixth term, he would be the most senior Republican in the Senate placing him in a position, under Republican control, as president pro tempore.

As Appropriations Chairman, Cochran would, as he has, be able to direct critical federal funding for Mississippi priorities. In recent years, such spending has drawn the ire of Tea Party elements in the GOP. Gone are the days where earmarks can be laughed off in the way former Senator Trent Lott used to say, "Pork is federal spending on projects north of Memphis." But directing the federal budget is the Constitutional responsibility of Congress and abdicating those decisions to President and the executive branch has done little to curb spending. When anti-spending Republicans in Congress sought to deny or curtail federal assistance after Hurricane Katrina, it was Cochran who drove the train of relief to the Mississippi Gulf Coast and New Orleans. Without Cochran, the Coast would be a different world: higher unemployment, fewer businesses, lower population: there would be likely still be ruins where thriving communities exist today.

In agriculture, Cochran faces battles more fierce than Republican versus Democrat: Plain States versus the South. American agriculture's diverse interests pit farmers against farmers on major policy decisions. Mississippi has been fortunate to have Cochran directing policies impacting the state's $7.51 billion agriculture industry.

I have no inside scoop on Cochran's reelection plans. I am convinced only he knows the likelihood of his choice. But when he turns a healthy 76 years old this December, I doubt he has plans for a post-Senate lobbying career, or actively serving on national corporate boards, or running for some other office. Were he not to run again, I think he would have an actual retirement in Oxford, finishing out his life as a distinguished former gentleman Senator. He would be done with his professional career. And that might be appeal to him.

But he loves the Senate. He loves it as an institution and he enjoys his work of persuading and sparring with colleagues on both sides of the aisle. For more than forty years his work has been on Capitol Hill. He admits the Senate has changed, sometimes not for the better, but his quiet leadership has built a reputation for Mississippi, his staff and himself that is not easily put aside. He could continue that service to his country and state. And that might appeal to him.

I don't believe he is ready to retire. He is prepared for an election. He is still strong. In the first six months of this year he raised $350,000: not a staggering amount but on track to have a million dollars cash-on-hand by the end of the year. Once elected to the Senate, he has never won less than 60 percent of the vote for reelection even when challenged by then sitting Governor William Winter (1984).

Cochran isn't a partisan bomb thrower and has appeal across party lines, consistently one of the most popular statewide elected officials. Compared to other Republicans, he posts strong numbers among Mississippi's traditionally Democratic African American voters. But he has conservative credentials from national groups: Right to Life - 100%; Gun Owners of America - 100%; National Federation of Independent Business - 100%; Campaign for Working Families - 100%; American Conservative Union - 79%; Chamber of Commerce - 88%; even a group like Freedom Works which has in the past targeted incumbents in a Republican Primary similar to Cochran rate him with an 83% score. While still not throwing political grenades, his office has shown an increased activity in social media addressing the concerns of those conservatives who might be supportive of a primary challenge.

I'm sure there will be plenty of talk at Neshoba about Cochran's future, but he has said he will announce his plans at the end of the year or beginning of next year.



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