October 24, 2013 8:44:55 AM
Now that the Tea Party has recruited a Republican candidate to seek Thad Cochran's seat in the U.S. Senate, the paramount question becomes "will Thad run?"
The state's senior senator has kept his plans close to the vest. His response last week was a simple press release saying he will decide later this year. Cochran, 75, would be seeking his seventh term in the Senate. He first went to Washington 40 years ago as a U.S. Representative.
He is not the only senior Republican senator to be "primary-ed" by the Tea Party. The confrontational conservative group has also recruited primary opponents for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas.
The efforts to throw out these long-time, pro-business senators is turning the support of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, another champion of conservatism, away from Tea Party candidates.
"We are going to get engaged," the Chamber's senior political strategist Scott Reed told Bloomberg.com. "The need is now more than ever to elect people who understand the free market and not silliness," said Reed.
Labeling the Tea Party tactics a "Republican Civil War," Bloomberg said the business response will hurt GOP efforts to gain control of the Senate in 2014 by pulling business resources away from contests in states with Democratic senators.
The risk to Cochran's re-election is not so much from his opponent but from voter aggravation with government. During lunch with Republican-leaning businessmen I asked about the Senate race. Expecting to hear complimentary comments about Cochran's statesmanship, championship of small business, saving Meridian Naval Air Station from closure and protecting other bases, providing resources for education and university research, or support for agriculture, I heard this instead:
"We need to clean house in Washington."
"I was against term limits before, but now I'm for them."
"It's time for Thad to come home."
These attitudes may not persist or pervade the state, but if they do Cochran may decide he no longer has the fire in the belly to fight both Tea Partiers and voter discontent. His fundraising activities suggest he may not. While he has $800,000 in his war chest, he would likely need millions.
If he does not run, one or more Republican leaders will. Those who will seriously consider running include Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, State Auditor Stacey Pickering, and Congressmen Gregg Harper, Alan Nunnelee, and Steven Palazzo. Not all would run, but all will think about it. For the Congressmen it's more risky. They would have to give up running for their current positions. And don't rule out former Governor Haley Barbour.
We'll miss Thad far more than most realize if he comes home.
Bill Crawford, a former legislator, lives in Meridian. His e-mail address is [email protected]