In a shocking development, senior Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran has announced that he will be resigning effective April 1st.
The 80-year-old Cochran was first elected in 1978, and is the third senior-most senator overall (behind Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Orrin Hatch of Utah), as well as the second senior-most Republican (behind Hatch, who is also retiring in 2018). He is resigning due to long-standing concerns about his health.
The announcement is set to completely change the course of Mississippi Republican politics in 2018. The other Senate seat from the state, held by junior Senator Roger Wicker, is already up for reelection this November. Now, due to Cochran’s resignation, his seat will also be up again on the same day.
Up to this point, Wicker was facing a serious primary challenge from State Senator Chris McDaniel, a Tea Party-backed conservative candidate. McDaniel had previously challenged Cochran in 2014 and narrowly won the initial primary, but then lost the runoff election.
McDaniel was preparing to return for a similar primary challenge against Wicker; However, he had said in the past that he would consider dropping his challenge to Wicker and instead run for Cochran’s seat in the event that Cochran resigned. Now that this has indeed happened, it is possible that McDaniel will switch races and instead run for the open seat, especially if a more “establishment” politician is appointed by Governor Phil Bryant as Cochran’s replacement. Potential candidates include former governor Haley Barbour and Speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives Philip Gunn.