McDaniel now running to replace Cochran

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Rogelio V. Solis, AP

Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville, speaks during Mississippi Senate floor debate earlier this year.

Chris McDaniel has dropped out of the race for the Senate seat held by Sen. Roger Wicker, instead announcing a bid for the Senate seat that will be left vacant by Sen. Thad Cochran.

McDaniel, the arch-conservative who has for months mounted a Senate campaign on beating Washington’s Republican establishment, made the announcement Wednesday afternoon, just two weeks after announcing his challenge of Wicker.

“By announcing early, we are asking Mississippi Republicans to unite around my candidacy and avoid another contentious contest among GOP members that would only improve the Democrats’ chances of winning the open seat,” McDaniel said in a release. “If we unite the party now and consolidate our resources, we can guarantee Donald Trump will have a fighter who will stand with him.”

Wicker had spent weeks bombarding state media markets with advertisements, questioning McDaniel’s allegiance to President Donald Trump. Trump himself had endorsed Wicker the night before McDaniel officially announced his campaign two weeks ago.

With both U.S. Senate seats up for grabs on the same night in November, McDaniel’s flip shakes up an already wild political environment. Cochran’s retirement, announced Feb. 5 and effective on April 1, will force a special election on Nov. 6 to fill the seat.

That special election will have no primary; instead, whomever qualifies will run that day. If no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote, a runoff will occur two weeks later – two days before Thanksgiving.

Several potential candidates have hinted at a bid for the open seat, including former Democratic Congressman and U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy.

Adding more intrigue to the bid for Cochran’s seat, Gov. Phil Bryant has 10 days from April 1 to appoint a temporary office holder. According to published reports, the governor is not planning to appoint McDaniel, despite calls to do so from McDaniel’s supporters.

Sen. Roger Wicker

Meanwhile, the regularly scheduled election for the Senate seat held by Wicker will continue without McDaniel. Wicker will face Gulf Coast businessman Richard Boyanton in the Republican primary on June 5.

Several Democratic candidates qualified for the seat held by Wicker, including David Baria, Democratic leader in the state House of Representatives; longtime state Rep. Omeria Scott; Howard Sherman, a venture capitalist and husband to actress Sela Ward; Jensen Bohren of Benton; Jerone Garland of Kosciusko; and Victor Maurice of Pass Christian.

McDaniel catapulted onto the national political scene in 2014 when he beat Cochran in the Republican primary, but failed to gain the majority of votes required to earn the Republican primary. What ensued was a bitter three-week runoff, won by Cochran amid allegations that Democrats had improperly voted in the runoff for Cochran over the insurgent McDaniel.

But there was a darker side to that primary, including intense mud-slinging and a scandal involving photos improperly taken by McDaniel supporters of Cochran’s ill wife in a nursing home bed. Many McDaniel supporters claimed the election was stolen from them. McDaniel himself never conceded the race and unsuccessfully challenged the results in court.

McDaniel has spent the months since the loss maintaining and building his base of Mississippi voters who are fed up with Washington’s power structure. That sentiment was credited with vaulting Trump to the White House, a candidacy that McDaniel backed as the businessman turned politician easily won Mississippi’s support.