Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran will seek a seventh term in 2014, NBC News learned Friday, making the veteran lawmaker into a top target for conservative groups during next year's GOP primary.
Amid murmurs that Cochran might retire rather than endure a campaign against already-announced challenger Chris McDaniel, the senator will instead try for another six-year stint in Congress.
The Mississippi Republican's decision was first reported by Roll Call and the senator confirmed it in an interview with Gannett newspapers. His Senate spokesman confirmed Cochran's decision to NBC News.
McDaniel, a state senator, swiftly picked up endorsements from the influential Club for Growth and Senate Conservatives Fund after he announced his candidacy this fall. As the ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee, Cochran has hardly enamored himself among conservative groups who wish to slash government spending.
The pressure on Cochran from his right is even more pronounced in a reliably Republican state like Mississippi, where the GOP primary can sometimes serve as a de-facto general election.
“Throughout his over forty years in Washington, Senator Thad Cochran has done some good things for Mississippi, but he’s also done some bad things. He voted to bail out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, voted repeatedly to raise the debt limit by trillions of dollars, and even voted against a resolution that stated Congress has a “moral obligation” to cut spending,” said Club for Growth President Chris Chocola. “Senator Cochran has also voted to confirm liberal Supreme Court Justices and is a strong supporter of wasteful earmarks – something that is opposed by Republican leaders in both the Senate and the House. Mississippi voters will make the final judgment as to whether it is time for a change.”
Cochran, who will turn 76 tomorrow, had appeared to waiver on whether he wanted to run again. He missed his self-imposed end-of-November deadline to make a decision, and his meager fundraising of just $53,000 in the third quarter didn't make it seem as though he was likely to seek re-election. Many GOP observers, both in D.C. and Mississippi, expected he would retire, but his thinking seemed to have changed in the past few weeks.
The veteran lawmaker likely still has the upper hand in the June 2014 primary. Still seen as popular in the Magnolia State, Cochran was first elected to the U.S. House in 1972 before winning his Senate seat in 1978. He has been easily re-elected since.
Other statewide officials had said they would consider running if Cochran stepped aside, but his decision to run likely sets up a showdown with McDaniel, and may give Tea Party groups their best chance to knock off a member of the GOP establishment. SCF and CFG's political arms have already run television ads, praising him as a new conservative leader. McDaniel drew criticism for addressing a neo-Confederate group earlier this year.
"Our members in Mississippi like Chris McDaniel because he will fight to stop the massive spending, bailouts, and debt that are destroying our country," said SCF Executive Director Matt Hoskins. "We're going to do everything we can to help him get his message out so voters know they have a choice."
First published December 6 2013, 9:28 AM