Controversial Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R) is abandoning a primary challenge to Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) and instead launching a bid for the seat being vacated by Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), he announced Wednesday evening, giving him an easier path to the U.S. Senate.
“By announcing early, we are asking Mississippi Republicans to unite around my candidacy and avoid another contentious contest among GOP members that would only improve the Democrats’ chances of winning the open seat,” McDaniel said in a statement. “If we unite the party now and consolidate our resources, we can guarantee Donald Trump will have a fighter who will stand with him.”
That switch comes after months of internal debate from McDaniel, who delayed filing for the Wicker race for as long as he could as he waited on Cochran, before eventually jumping in a few weeks ago. Cochran announced shortly afterwards that he’d retire, creating a much easier opening for McDaniel, who lost a close and nasty primary to Cochran in 2014.
Cochran will resign on April 1, and Mississippi Gov. Phi Bryant (R) has said he’ll start considering a replacement after that. McDaniel’s allies have pushed to have him named to the seat, something Bryant is loath to do.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and President Trump have both encouraged Bryant to appoint himself, but sources say he’s not thrilled with the idea. Whoever Bryant does pick is likely to have their hands full with McDaniel, who has a rabid Tea Party following in the state – though McDaniel’s criticisms of Trump during the 2016 GOP primary give opponents fodder to attack him.