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McDaniel to run for Cochran's U.S. Senate seat, not Wicker's

(Craig Ford)

An insurgent Mississippi Republican on Wednesday once again jumped into the race for a U.S. Senate seat he sought in 2014, catching flak anew from fellow party members even though the seat will be open this time with the retirement of U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran.

Posted: Mar 14, 2018 4:33 PM
Updated: Mar 14, 2018 8:00 PM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — An insurgent Mississippi Republican on Wednesday once again jumped into the race for a U.S. Senate seat he sought in 2014, catching flak anew from fellow party members even though the seat will be open this time with the retirement of U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran.

State Sen. Chris McDaniel, who earlier filed to challenge incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, announced instead that he'll run for Cochran's seat after the elder senator announced his April 1 retirement.

Memories of the bitter 2014 McDaniel-Cochran primary had already surfaced Wednesday, as tea party stalwarts rallied at the Mississippi Capitol for their heartthrob McDaniel, even before he had announced the switch. They said that Gov. Phil Bryant should appoint McDaniel to the vacancy, arguing McDaniel should have won the seat anyway.

But Bryant, who already faces daily questions about who he will name to replace Cochran, instead attacked McDaniel.

"This opportunistic behavior is a sad commentary for a young man who once had great potential," Bryant said in a statement.

The remark immediately undercut McDaniel's argument that Republicans should rally around him and avoid a nasty primary battle that might give Democrats another Senate seat as the GOP seeks to hold its narrow majority.

"If we unite the party now and consolidate our resources, we can guarantee Donald Trump will have a fighter who will stand with him," McDaniel said in a statement.

It came only hours after he told The Associated Press that he hadn't decided on a switch.

The change allows McDaniel to run for a Senate seat with no incumbent and gives him more time to campaign and raise money. While the Republican primary for Wicker's seat is June 5, Cochran's seat is up for grabs in a nonpartisan election in November, which could be followed by a runoff just before Thanksgiving.

McDaniel qualified to run against Wicker in the Republican primary before Cochran announced his April 1 retirement last week. The 80-year-old senator cited poor health in stepping down.

State Republican Party spokeswoman Jennifer Dunagin said McDaniel hadn't yet officially removed his name from the primary ballot. Wicker said that until that happened, his campaign will continue as planned. Wicker is already attacking McDaniel on television saying he's not supportive enough of President Donald Trump.

"We will not take anything for granted and will continue the hard work of once again earning the support of Mississippi voters," Wicker said in a statement.

Cochran's departure set off a scramble within a state Republican Party already struggling with a disaffected conservative faction.

Bryant is under pressure to appoint someone who can keep the GOP's historical lock on the seat, with some Republican leaders fearing ultraconservative McDaniel could lose to a Democrat in the same way that Roy Moore lost to Doug Jones in Alabama last year. There has been widespread speculation that Bryant might appoint Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves or Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, both Republicans, although Bryant has ruled out appointing himself, despite entreaties from some in Washington.

McDaniel, for his part, is sounding the anti-Washington establishment theme that Moore relied on, saying he's focused on "making sure Mitch McConnell is not selecting our next senator."

There's already a Democrat eyeing the race with Mike Espy, President Bill Clinton's first agriculture secretary, saying he has a "strong intention" to run for the seat Cochran is leaving. In 1986 he became the first African-American since Reconstruction to win a congressional seat in Mississippi.

Republican intraparty tensions date to the 2014 primary, when McDaniel narrowly missed defeating Cochran in a three-way primary. Forced into a runoff, Cochran called on longstanding ties to the African-American community by successfully courting black voters who traditionally support Democrats to vote for him in the runoff.

McDaniel supporters cried foul, but Mississippi voters don't register by party, and the only people restricted from voting in a Republican runoff are those who voted in the Democratic primary for the same office. McDaniel unsuccessfully challenged his runoff loss by saying Cochran had improperly sought support from voters who never intended to support the eventual GOP nominee. McDaniel never conceded.

Tea Party leader Laura VanOverschelde told reporters Wednesday that 2014 primary was "stolen" and argued that Bryant would do long-delayed justice by appointing McDaniel.

"It would bring great healing to the Republican Party," she said.

But even before McDaniel made the switch, Bryant was downplaying the push to appoint McDaniel.

"Gov. Bryant will announce the U.S. Senate appointment once he decides who that will be," spokesman Clay Chandler said. "That decision has not been made. But he will not be affected by any political group or dynamic."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 255125

Reported Deaths: 5574
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto17197175
Hinds16280322
Harrison13502193
Rankin10749211
Jackson10407183
Lee8819141
Madison8262162
Jones6375110
Forrest5992119
Lauderdale5873180
Lowndes5381116
Lafayette496692
Lamar487565
Washington4800123
Bolivar3978108
Oktibbeha393880
Panola370779
Pontotoc365353
Monroe3543105
Warren353498
Union344760
Marshall342665
Neshoba3383152
Pearl River329799
Leflore3004105
Lincoln297685
Sunflower284969
Hancock273459
Tate272462
Alcorn264053
Pike263577
Itawamba262959
Scott246645
Yazoo245955
Prentiss245652
Copiah241949
Tippah241750
Simpson235767
Coahoma233754
Leake231164
Grenada218470
Covington213071
Marion212072
Adams205870
Wayne201331
Winston200564
George199338
Attala193759
Newton192842
Tishomingo186359
Chickasaw183944
Jasper170835
Holmes168767
Clay159433
Stone143621
Tallahatchie141034
Clarke138960
Calhoun136121
Smith120823
Yalobusha117034
Walthall112336
Noxubee110522
Greene110229
Montgomery109634
Carroll104521
Lawrence102617
Perry102231
Amite98025
Webster92424
Tunica86721
Claiborne86625
Jefferson Davis84825
Humphreys83024
Benton81823
Kemper77220
Quitman6918
Franklin66615
Choctaw60513
Wilkinson58425
Jefferson54319
Sharkey43017
Issaquena1596
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 424028

Reported Deaths: 6121
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson62258921
Mobile30381549
Madison27160186
Tuscaloosa20779267
Montgomery19049305
Shelby18572114
Baldwin16346182
Lee12515101
Morgan12260113
Etowah11757168
Calhoun11161200
Marshall10199107
Houston8630148
Cullman8036105
Limestone802874
Elmore7849101
DeKalb768897
Lauderdale760083
St. Clair7555120
Talladega6180108
Walker5903174
Jackson581341
Colbert533573
Blount530883
Autauga519855
Coffee443956
Dale398581
Franklin367548
Chilton337665
Russell331710
Covington327768
Escambia319342
Dallas303396
Chambers284269
Clarke282133
Tallapoosa2617107
Pike249429
Marion246250
Lawrence244247
Winston227335
Bibb216247
Geneva202535
Marengo199729
Pickens197031
Hale176442
Barbour173036
Butler170258
Fayette169026
Cherokee160530
Henry154421
Monroe145617
Randolph140735
Washington137726
Clay126745
Crenshaw119544
Lamar118219
Cleburne117723
Macon115035
Lowndes110735
Wilcox103121
Bullock99128
Perry97719
Conecuh94420
Sumter89126
Greene76123
Coosa60515
Choctaw51524
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