Thad Cochran to Resign From Senate, Shaking Up Mississippi Politics

Thad Cochran finally hangs it up, leaving a very unsettled political situation in Mississippi. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call,Inc.

It’s hardly a big surprise that the very senior U.S. senator from Mississippi, Thad Cochran, has announced his resignation from the Upper Chamber, effective April 1, after 40 years in the Senate and 46 years in Congress. He’s been in shaky physical and psychological health for a good while now, and may have been postponing his retirement to get another cycle of federal spending under his belt as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Cochran (or his handlers) may, however, have also been playing some Mississippi politics, delaying the announcement until after the March 1 qualifying deadline for the 2018 elections. That forced Cochran’s political nemesis, Chris McDaniel, to declare for an uphill primary challenge to Senator Roger Wicker, instead of becoming an instant front-runner in a special election to succeed the old guy he nearly defenestrated in 2014.

Whatever his motives, Cochran has put his political ally Governor Phil Bryant firmly into the catbird seat with respect to his soon-to-be vacant Senate seat. Bryant will appoint an interim senator until November. Likely prospects include Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves (whose elevation would let Bryant choose the front-runner to become his own successor in 2019) and Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann. And McDaniel could well abandon his race against Wicker to parachute into the special election.

At this point there’s no smart money supporting the idea that a Democrat could become competitive in either 2018 race in this bright-red state. But neither did it seem likely when Jeff Sessions resigned his Alabama Senate seat to become attorney general.

The November 6 special election for this seat will be a nonpartisan contest with a majority required for victory, which will likely mean a low-turnout runoff later on featuring a Republican and a Democrat. Almost anything could happen.

Senator Cochran to Resign, Shaking Up Mississippi Politics