Get ready for a bruising GOP primary battle in Mississippi.
Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., said Friday he will seek a seventh term in 2014, setting the stage for a contentious contest that pits the Republican establishment against the Tea Party wing.
There had been speculation that Cochran, who turns 76 on Saturday and had raised relatively little cash, would retire rather than run again for the seat he first won in 1978. In October, Tea Party-backed state Sen. Chris McDaniel announced he would seek the GOP nomination whether or not Cochran ran again, and he criticized the veteran incumbent's vote to end the federal government shutdown.
Soon after, McDaniel received the endorsements of three influential conservative outside groups: Club for Growth, Senate Conservatives Fund and Madison Project. SCF's superPAC arm, Senate Conservatives Action, ran a statewide television ad in support of McDaniel last month.
Cochran, the second-most-senior Republican in the Senate and the top Republican on the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, serves on the powerful Appropriations Committee. Before Congress banned earmarks, he was recognized for his ability to direct federal funds to his home state.
After raising $53,000 last quarter, Cochran had just over $800,000 in his campaign account at the end of September — a relatively low amount for a sitting senator. But he's expected to have the full backing of the GOP establishment during the campaign.
Cochran isn't the only veteran GOP senator with a primary opponent next year, but he may be one of the more vulnerable. A November survey from Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling found Cochran with a 44 percent to 38 percent advantage over McDaniel. Fifty-five percent of the state's GOP voters said they would prefer a more conservative alternative to Cochran.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, Wyoming Sen. Mike Enzi and Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander are among the Republicans facing challenges from the right.
The winner of the June primary will be the overwhelming favorite in the general election, as Mississippi is one of the most reliably Republican states in the country.