Cochran’s re-election decision complex

Published 12:00 pm Saturday, November 2, 2013

Five years ago at the University of Mississippi’s Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics, I was asked to conduct a public interview with Mississippi’s senior U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran during his bid for a sixth term against Democratic challenger and former state legislator Erik Fleming.

During that interview I asked Sen. Cochran, then 70, how he reached his decision to seek a sixth term. Here’s his answer in its entirety:

“It was a challenging decision.  I won’t say it was difficult, but frankly I felt obligated to the state to run. People were asking me what my intentions were and when I would say that I was considering whether or not to run, people would say ‘my gosh, you’ve got to run!’ I mean almost confrontational at the thought that I might not run. And I thought, well, golly, I’ve been there a long time, you know. People (other Mississippi members of Congress) have retired when they were younger than I am and I’d name off a few. People we knew. After I guess a good amount of time went by before I finally decided.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“I realized that I probably should (run again) because of the effect it could have on the state of Mississippi, some of our programs that we depend upon here for assistance and economic development activities, national installations, military facilities, a long list of connections and impacts that had to be considered. I just thought, well, it’s the thing to do. What the heck, I’ve been doing this since I was 34 years old. I might as well continue for another six years. I hope nobody comes up to me in six years and says ‘you are going to run for re-election, aren’t you?’ I don’t think I will. This will be the last term,” Cochran said.

Now, here we are five years down the road and only a few weeks from Cochran’s 76th birthday. People, in fact throngs of people, are asking Sen. Cochran to run for a seventh term. None of the conditions that Cochran cited in that 2008 interview have appreciably changed – Mississippi will still be diminished on Capitol Hill if Cochran steps down and the “programs that we depend upon here for assistance and economic development activities, national installations, military facilities, a long list of connections and impacts” tied to Cochran and his priceless seniority will be endangered.

And, yes, Cochran’s still been there a long, long time. Cochran, the Republican who has held the Senate post since first winning election to succeed Democrat James O. “Big Jim” Eastland in 1978, has represented Mississippi’s interests on Capitol Hill since his days in the U.S. House in 1972 — an astounding 40 total years of service. Cochran’s three-term House career ended with his election to the U.S. Senate in 1978.

Cochran’s decision in the next few months will be the balancing of the same responsibilities he feels to serve and protect Mississippi that he felt in 2008 with the realities of his age and health and the current toxic political climate in Washington.

State Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville, recently announced his candidacy for Cochran’s Senate seat in 2014. But it’s difficult to imagine that even the charismatic Jones County trial lawyer saw that tactical decision as one that would derail a Cochran campaign.

If Cochran decides to seek re-election, he will be re-elected. Mississippians have seen this political movie before when former Democratic U.S. Sen. John C. Stennis was challenged by a young Republican upstart named Haley Barbour.

Barbour had political skills so adept that they carried him to service as a political director at the White House, the helm of the GOP and the Mississippi Governor’s Mansion. But in 1982, Mississippi voters knew that the seniority Stennis embodied was worth far more to the state than anything Barbour could deliver at that time.

Of all the politicians currently measuring Cochran’s office for curtains, the only one with not much to lose is Thad Cochran — and that makes him formidable in the extreme against any and all comers should he choose to serve another term.