Thad Cochran’s Future In Doubt

Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran may leave his post as Chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee, and possibly the Senate as well, next month:

Sen. Thad Cochran, chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee, hasn’t presided over a hearing since early September. The Mississippi Republican has not given a speech on the Senate floor all year, and he’s introduced only two bills during that time, both of them minor.

To the extent that Cochran weighs in on any issue, it’s in the form of an official statement from his office or the appropriations panel. He has stopped meeting with anyone about substantive committee business, including other senators or House members, according to several sources familiar with his activities. Cochran’s aides deny this is the case.

The concerns about Cochran come at a sensitive time for Senate Republicans. Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Armed Services Committee and former GOP presidential nominee, is undergoing treatment for brain cancer and has returned to Arizona to spend the holidays with his family. Democrat Doug Jones, who scored a stunning upset in the Alabama Senate special election this month, will soon cut the GOP majority to 51-49.

And with President Donald Trump sliding in the polls, what had looked like a chance for Republicans to pick up Senate seats in 2018 has now turned into a battle to simply retain control of the chamber. If Cochran resigns or retires, Mississippi would have two Senate elections in November; incumbent GOP Sen. Roger Wicker is also up for reelection. Republicans would be heavily favored to hold both seats in the conservative state.


If Cochran steps down in 2018, Gov. Phil Bryant (R) would appoint a replacement for him, with a special election to fill the rest Cochran’s term taking place in November, the same day as the regularly scheduled election for the seat held by Wicker. If Cochran leaves office before the end of this year, the special election would take place within 100 days, according to Mississippi law.

GOP sources said they’ve been hoping Cochran doesn’t resign or retire before next year to avoid a quick special election.

Potential appointees to replace Cochran, according to Mississippi political insiders and news reports, include Rep. Gregg Harper, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, among others.

Unlike his fellow ailing Senator John McCain, Cochran did manage to make it back to Washington to vote on the tax bill, and wil remain in town as the Senate tries to put together a bill to keep the government funded past Friday.

Cochran, of course, was last in the news back in 2014 when he came in second behind Mississippi State Senator Chris McDaniel, a candidate backed by Tea Party groups who also expressed views that are strikingly similar to those of what has since become the Bannonite wing of the Republican Party, but managed to beat him in a Special Election and easily win re-election that November. There’s been some speculation that McDaniel would seek to run for the Senate again in 2018, either in a challenge to incumbent Senator Roger Wicker, who will be seeking his second full term in office or for Cochran’s seat should he choose to step aside. For his part, McDaniel has not said what he plans to do, and there’s some speculation that he could decide to stay closer to home and run for Lt. Governor instead.

In any case, while some are pointing to Mississippi as a potential Democratic pickup if Cochran resigns and Republicans end up nominating McDaniel or a candidate like him, past history seems to indicate that Mississppi is so deeply red that Cochran’s seat would stay safely Republican regardless of who the nominee would be.


FILED UNDER: 2018 Election, Congress, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Franklin says:

    Neither this post nor the article really speculate on his lack of activity, except for a quote from Chris McDaniel that starts “I hope he’s healthy and happy …” I take it that people think Cochran is ailing?

  2. It’s been fairly well reported that Cochran was back home recovering from surgery.

  3. Matt Bernius says:

    Additionally there has been a lot of speculation about Cochran’s overall physical and mental health for quite a while. Throughout the year there have been reports have characterized his behavior at times as confused and/or disorientate. That could be due to repeated medical issues (or the side effects of medications to treat those issues.


  4. Gustopher says:

    It would be as unlikely for the Democrats to pick up a seat in Mississippi as it would be to pick up a seat in Alabama. Nominating a lunatic of the Tea/Trump persuasion would just make the local Republicans happy and excited.

    What are the odds that they nominate another child molester? Less than one in five, I would estimate.

  5. Mu says:

    @Gustopher: Still better odds than the Democrat would have to win on his own merits.

  6. OzarkHillbilly says:


    It would be as unlikely for the Democrats to pick up a seat in Mississippi as it would be to pick up a seat in Alabama.

    Which is to say it’s not an impossibility just that one needs all the stars, planets, moons, and asteroids to perfectly align and pray that some comet doesn’t dive thru the solar system and fvck it all up.