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Decision 18: Final U.S. Senate race will be decided in Mississippi Tuesday

Republican U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith tries to withstand controversies dogging her during the runoff with Democrat Mike Espy

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

JACKSON, Mississippi (CFP) — In the three weeks since the first round of voting in Mississippi’s special U.S. Senate election, Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith has faced a barrage of negative headlines in the national media and apologized for making a joke about attending a public hanging.

Cindy Hyde-Smith in 2014 Facebook photo at Beauvoir, Jefferson Davis’s home

And in a world where nothing on the internet ever goes away, a Facebook photo surfaced of Hyde-Smith — during a visit to the home of Jefferson Davis — wearing a Confederate cap, holding a rifle and calling the tableau “Mississippi history at its best.”

All of this was too much for Wal-Mart, which asked for its campaign contribution back.

But the question to be answered in Tuesday’s runoff is, will any of that be enough to allow her Democratic African-American opponent, Mike Espy, to defeat her in a bright red state where a Democrat hasn’t won a Senate race in 36 years?

Or to overcome very visible support from President Donald Trump, who is making visits to Tupelo and Biloxi on election eve to rally the base for Hyde-Smith?

Hyde-Smith is facing Espy in a special election to fill the remaining two years of the term of Republican Thad Cochran, the Mississippi icon who resigned in April due to ill health. She was appointed by Governor Phil Bryant to serve in the Senate temporarily until voters pick a permanent replacement in the special election.

Hyde-Smith, 59, from Brookhaven, was Mississippi’s agriculture commissioner until being appointed to the Senate. She was originally elected to the state Senate in 2000 as a Democrat but switched parties in 2010.

Former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy

Espy, 64, from Jackson, served three terms in the U.S. House before being picked by President Bill Clinton as agriculture secretary in 1993. He resigned in 1994 amid allegations that he had received improper gifts. He was later acquitted of federal corruption charges.

During the first round of voting November 6, Hyde-Smith and Espy tied at 41 percent, with another Republican in the race, State Senator Chris McDaniel, coming in third.

Given the overwhelming Republican tilt of the Magnolia State, Hyde-Smith was seen as a prohibitive favorite in the runoff. Indeed, McDaniel, who nearly beat Cochran in 2014, was seen as the biggest hurdle to her continued tenure in the Senate.

However, a series of controversies that have dogged her since the first round of voting have given Democrats hope that they might replicate the success they had in Alabama in 2017, when Democrat Doug Jones defeated Republican Roy Moore amid allegations of sexual impropriety.

First, five days after the election, a video surfaced in which Hyde-Smith is heard telling a supporter that if he invited her to a public hanging, she would be in the front row. She insisted the remark was a joke, but her critics charged it was a racially insensitive remark to make in a state with a history of lynchings of African-Americans.

During their only campaign debate, Hyde-Smith apologized “to anyone who was offended by my comments,” insisting there was “no ill will” and that her record as senator and agriculture commissioner shows she harbors no racial animus.

“This comment was twisted, and it was turned into a weapon to be used against me — a political weapon used for nothing but personal, political gain by my opponent,” she said.

Another video surfaced November 15 in which Hyde-Smith says it would be a “great idea” to make it more difficult for liberals to vote, which her campaign insisted was a joke made to supporters and not advocacy of voter suppression.

Then a week before the runoff, news organizations began reporting a photo posted in 2014 on Hyde-Smith’s Facebook account, where she is donning a Confederate cap and carrying a rifle at Davis’s home in Biloxi.

The caption read: “I enjoyed my tour of Beauvoir. The Jefferson Davis Home and Presidential Library located in Biloxi. This is a must see. Currently on display are artifacts connected to the daily life of the Confederate Soldier including weapons. Mississippi history at its best!”

Her campaign did not offer any comment in the photo. But a spokeswoman pushed back hard when the Jackson Free Press reported that Hyde-Smith had attended a high school in the 1970s originally founded to allow white parents to avoid sending their children to segregated schools. The story included photos of a teenage Hyde-Smith posing with her cheerleading pom-poms.

“In their latest attempt to help Mike Espy, the gotcha liberal media has taken leave of their senses,” said spokeswoman Melissa Scallan. “They have stooped to a new low, attacking her entire family and trying to destroy her personally instead of focusing on the clear differences on the issues between Cindy Hyde-Smith and her far-left opponent.”

What won’t be clear until Tuesday is how much any of these controversies will affect the outcome of this race. Many white Mississippians of Hyde-Smith’s generation attended so-called “segregation academies” when they were young. And wearing a Confederate cap has a different connotation in a place where the state flag still contains the Confederate battle emblem than it does in media and political circles in Washington or New York.

Also, none of the controversies dogging Hyde-Smith comes anywhere close to the situation in Alabama, where Moore was accused of sexual misconduct with underage girls, which he denied.

Mississippi has the largest percentage of African-American residents of any state, 37 percent. So the result of the runoff will likely hinge on the turnout among African-American voters, who are expected to go Democratic in large numbers.

If African-Americans make up 30 percent of the electorate Tuesday, as they did in the first round of voting, Espy would need about a third of the white vote to get to a majority. If they make up 35 percent, he would need about a quarter of the white vote.

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Mississippi Runoff: Michael Guest wins GOP nomination for open in U.S. House District

State House Minority Leader David Baria will face U.S. Senator Roger Wicker in the fall

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

JACKSON, Mississippi (CFP) — Republicans in Mississippi’s 3rd U.S. House District have chosen prosecutor Michael Guest as their party’s nominee, making him the favorite to become the newest member of the state’s congressional delegation.

Guest, the chief prosecutor for the judicial district that includes Madison and Rankin counties, took 65 percent in the June 26 runoff to defeat Whit Hughes, a hospital executive and aide to former Governor Haley Barbour, who took 35 percent.

Michael Guest

Guest will now take on Democratic State Rep. Michael Ted Evans of Preston in the district, which stretches across southern Mississippi from Natchez to Meridian and also includes the northern Jackson suburbs. The seat is being vacated by U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper, who is retiring after five terms.

Guest will be favored in the heavily Republican district, which has been in GOP hands since 1997.

The other major race on the runoff ballot in Mississippi was the Democratic contest for U.S. Senate, where State House Minority Leader David Baria from Bay St. Louis defeated Howard Sherman, a venture capitalist from Meridian who is married to actress and Meridian native Sela Ward.

Baria took 59 percent to 41 percent for Sherman.

Wicker, elected to the Senate in 2008, is considered to be a heavy favorite for re-election in a state where Democrats haven’t won a Senate race since 1982.

The Magnolia State’s other Senate seat is also open, after the retirement of Thad Cochran earlier this year. It will be filled in an all-party special election in November that features Republican U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, who was appointed as a temporary replacement for Cochran; GOP State Senator Chris McDaniel, who ran unsuccessfully to unseat Cochran in 2014; and former Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Espy, who served as agriculture secretary in the Clinton administration.

McDaniel had initially filed to run against Wicker in the primary but switched to the other race after Hyde-Smith was appointed to Cochran’s seat.

Southern Primaries: Alabama Governor Kay Ivey seeks full term; U.S. Rep Martha Roby tries to survive backlash over Trump criticism

6 Republicans also battle for open U.S. House seat in Mississippi

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

BIRMINGHAM (CFP) — Governor Kay Ivey, who became Alabama’s chief executive last year after her disgraced predecessor resigned amid a sex scandal, will take the first step toward winning a new term in her own right in Tuesday’s Republican primary against three challengers.

In another closely watched race in Alabama, Republican U.S. Rep. Martha Roby is trying to survive the backlash from her pointed criticism of President Donald Trump during last year’s presidential race, facing four GOP challengers who have hit her hard for being insufficiently supportive of the president.

Meanwhile, in neighboring Mississippi, the marquee race in Tuesday’s primary is in the state’s 3rd U.S. House District, where six Republicans are vying for two runoff spots in a race likely to be decided in the GOP primary.

Six Democrats are also vying for their party’s nomination to take on Republican U.S. Senator Roger Wicker in November, a race in which Wicker will be heavily favored.

Polls in both states are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. CDT.

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey

Ivey, 73, became governor in April 2017 after her predecessor, Robert Bentley, resigned amid allegations that he used state resources to try to hide an extramarital affair with a female aide, a scandal complete with salacious audio recordings that roiled state politics for months.

After five months in office, Ivey, who won plaudits for her handling of the Bentley debacle and its aftermath, announced that she would seek a full term as governor. A Morning Consult poll earlier this year  put her approval rating at 67 percent, making her one of the most popular governors in the country.

However, she still drew primary challengers from Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, State Senator Bill Hightower from Mobile and Scott Dawson, an evangelist from Birmingham. A fourth candidate, Michael McAllister, died in April, too late for his name to be removed from Tuesday’s ballot.

The governor’s campaign was thrown a curve ball in May when Alabama’s only openly gay legislator, Democratic State. Rep. Patricia Todd, posted on social media that Ivey was a closeted lesbian.

The governor’s campaign called the assertion “a disgusting lie.” Todd later said she has no evidence to back up the claim.

Pre-primary polling showed Ivey with a wide lead over her opponents; she will need a majority to avoid a July 17 runoff.

Six Democrats are competing in the primary to face the eventual Republican winner in the fall, including Sue Bell Cobb, former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court; four-term Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox; and former State Rep. James Fields from Hanceville.

U.S. Rep. Martha Roby, R-Alabama

In the 2nd District U.S. House race in southeast Alabama, Roby is facing four Republican challengers motivated by the congresswoman’s decision to distance herself from Trump during the 2016 election.

In October 2016, after the infamous Access Hollywood tape surfaced in which Trump bragged about sexually accosting women, Roby withdrew her endorsement and announced she would not vote for him because his “behavior makes him unacceptable as a candidate for president.”

In November, almost 30,000 people cast write-in votes against Roby. Although she won in the end, she wound up with just 49 percent of the vote in a strongly Republican district, virtually ensuring she would face a primary fight in 2018.

Among those running against Roby are Bobby Bright, a former Montgomery mayor whom Roby beat to win the seat in 2010 when Bright was a Democrat; Rich Hobson, the campaign manager for failed U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore; State Rep. Barry Moore from Enterprise; and Tommy Amason from Prattville, a military veteran making his first run for office.

Roby, who has toned down her criticisms of Trump since the election, opened up a huge fundraising advantage, taking in $1.4 million — more than twice as much as all of her GOP opponents combined, according to the latest Federal Election Commission reports.

The Democratic race in the 2nd District is between Tabitha Isner from Montgomery, a pastor’s wife and business analyst for a software company, and Audri Scott Williams, a former college dean.

In Mississippi, six Republicans and two Democrats are running in the 3rd District, which stretches across the southern part of the state from Natchez to Meridian and also includes Jackson’s northern suburbs

The incumbent, U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper, is retiring after five terms.

Republicans in the race include Michael Guest, the chief prosecutor for the judicial district that includes Madison and Rankin counties; Whit Hughes, a hospital executive and aide to former Governor Haley Barbour; Perry Parker, a farmer and investment executive from Seminary, near Hattiesburg; State Senator Sally Doty from Brookhaven; Morgan Dunn, a healthcare consultant from Magee; and Katherine “Bitzi” Tate, a former high school teacher.

If no candidate captures a majority Tuesday, the top two finishers will meet in a June 26 runoff.

The Democratic race is between State Rep. Michael Ted Evans of Preston and Michael Aycox, a police officer from Newton. The district is heavily Republican, making it a long shot for Democrats to flip a Mississippi seat.

In the Senate race, six Democrats are running to take on Wicker, including State House Minority Leader David Baria from Bay St. Louis; State Rep. Omeria Scott from Laurel; and Howard Sherman, a venture capitalist from Meridian who is married to actress Sela Ward, a Meridian native.

The Magnolia State’s other Senate seat is also open, after the retirement of Thad Cochran earlier this year. It will be filled in an all-party special election in November that features Republican U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, who was appointed as a temporary replacement for Cochran; GOP State Senator Chris McDaniel, who ran unsuccessfully to unseat Cochran in 2014; and former Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Espy, who served as agriculture secretary in the Clinton administration.

Mississippi Agriculture Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith picked for U.S. Senate vacancy

Selection sets up contentious special election battle with Republican State Senator Chris McDaniel

BROOKHAVEN, Mississippi (CFP) — State Agriculture Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith has been picked to fill Mississippi’s vacant seat in the U.S. Senate, marking the first time the Magnolia State has ever sent a woman to Congress.

Cindy Hyde-Smith unveiled as senator (From WJTV)

The question now is whether Hyde-Smith, a former Democratic state legislator who switched parties in 2010, can keep the seat permanently in a November special election that is likely to become a bruising battle for conservative votes against State Senator Chris McDaniel.

Governor Phil Bryant announced his selection of Hyde-Smith on March 21 in her hometown of Brookhaven.

“I pledge to you to serve all of our citizens with dignity, honor and respect,” she said in a speech where she emphasized her conservative positions against abortion and in favor of gun rights. “I’ve been a conservative all my life, and I’m very proud of my conservative record.”

She also noted that “this history of this moment is not lost on me.”

“I hope I can inspire young people to work hard to achieve their goals,” she said.

However, Bryant’s decision to pick Hyde-Smith came in for blistering criticism from McDaniel, whose supporters had been lobbying Bryant to appoint him to the seat created by the retirement of Republican U.S. Senator Thad Cochran.

“I was troubled to learn that Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant dutifully followed the orders of the Washington establishment’s Mitch McConnell,” McDaniel said in a statement. “Knowing the establishment’s opposition to conservatives, it was not at all surprising that they would choose a former Democrat.”

But in his introduction of Hyde-Smith, Bryant brushed aside suggestions that he was doing the bidding of Senate Republican leaders in picking Hyde-Smith.

“This decision is mine and mine alone,” he said. “But after it has been made, we need all Mississippians to stand with us if we are to be victorious.”

Hyde-Smith, 58, who operates a cattle farm with her husband, served in the state Senate as a Democrat from 2000 to 2010 and as a Republican from 2010 to 2012, when she left the Senate to run for agriculture commissioner. She won that race and was reelected with 61 percent of the vote in 2015.

In November, Hyde-Smith will run in an all-party special election against McDaniel and Democrat Mike Espy, a former congressman who served as federal agriculture secretary in the Clinton administration. If no candidate gains a majority, the top two finishers will meet in a runoff.

McDaniel, who nearly toppled Cochran in a 2014 primary, had originally filed to run against the state’s other GOP senator, Roger Wicker. But after Cochran announced his retirement, McDaniel changed course and decided to run for the open seat instead.

His decision to switch races led to a war of words with Bryant, who accused McDaniel of being “opportunistic” and made it clear that he would not only not appoint him to the vacant seat but would oppose his candidacy in the special election.

Bryant’s reaction to McDaniel’s candidacy shows that hard feelings have lingered from from the 2014 primary.

During that campaign, a McDaniel supporter, Clayton Kelly, sneaked into a nursing home to photograph Cochran’s wife, who was suffering from dementia, in order to collect material for a political video alleging that Cochran was involved in an extramarital affair. McDaniel denied any involvement in the scheme; Kelly later went to jail.

McDaniel has been a harsh critic of the Republican establishment, including Cochran, Wicker, and, especially, McConnell, the Senate majority leader whom he accused of meddling in Mississippi ‘s Senate races.

Though Hyde-Smith pronounced herself a supporter of President Trump in her statement accepting Bryant’s appointment, Politico reported that the White House opposed the governor’s decision because of fears that Hyde-Smith won’t carry the race in November.

However, she will be running not only with the support of Bryant but also with deep roots in the agriculture community, an important constituency in Mississippi.

Chris McDaniel switches to open U.S. Senate race in Mississippi

Decision sets off feud with Governor Phil Bryant, who tells McDaniel that Senate “is not the business for you”

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

JACKSON, Mississippi (CFP) — Republican State Senator Chris McDaniel has decided to end his primary challenge to U.S. Senator Roger Wicker and instead run for a vacancy created by the resignation of Mississippi’s other senator, Thad Cochran.

State Senator Chris McDaniel

But McDaniel’s switch, and a lobbying campaign by his supporters to persuade Governor Phil Bryant to pick McDaniel as Cochran’s temporary replacement until the November election, has led to a war of words between McDaniel and the governor, who has made it clear he will do whatever it takes to keep McDaniel out of the Senate.

“This opportunistic behavior is a sad commentary for a young man who once had great potential,” Bryant said in a March 15 statement released after McDaniel announced he was changing races.

In a statement announcing the switch, McDaniel said he want 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.”

“If we unite the party now and consolidate our resources, we can guarantee Donald Trump will have a fighter who will stand with him,” he said.

Members of the Mississippi Tea Party came to the Capitol in Jackson on March 14 to lobby Bryant to appoint McDaniel to the seat, which would clear the way for him to win the post permanently in November.

However, the governor made it clear that won’t happen, sending a blunt message to McDaniel in an interview with the Jackson Clarion-Ledger: “This is not the business for you.”

Bryant’s reaction to McDaniel’s candidacy shows that hard feelings have lingered from a bruising 2014 Senate primary in which McDaniel nearly ousted Cochran, a fixture in state politics for more than four decades.

During that campaign, a McDaniel supporter, Clayton Kelly, sneaked into a nursing home to photograph Cochran’s wife, who was suffering from dementia, in order to collect material for a political video alleging that Cochran was involved in an extramarital affair. McDaniel denied any involvement in the scheme; Kelly later went to jail.

McDaniel has been a harsh critic of the Republican establishment, including Cochran, Wicker, and, especially, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whom he accused of meddling in the Mississippi Senate races.

“Mitch McConnell wants to hand-pick our next senator. I understand why. It’s because they know that I won’t be answering to them, I’ll be answering to the voters of Mississippi and putting Mississippi first,” he said in a statement.

But Bryant told the Clarion-Ledger that Cochran’s charge that McConnell was trying to dictate the Senate appointment was “the silliest thing I’ve ever heard.”

Bryant will appoint a temporary replacement for Cochran who will serve until a new senator is elected in a special election in November to fill the final two years of Cochran’s term. The governor is expected to pick someone who will contest the seat.

In the special election, candidates from all parties will run in the same race, with the top two finishers competing in a runoff in no one wins a majority in the first round.

Former Secretary Mike Espy

Complicating matters for the Republicans is the candidacy of former U.S. Rep. Mike Espy, a Democrat who served as secretary of agriculture in the Clinton administration.

If the Republican field is divided between McDaniel and Bryant’s pick for the vacancy, Espy — who became the first African American to represent Mississippi in Congress since Reconstruction when he was elected in 1986 — could top the first round of voting.

African Americans make up 37 percent of the state’s voting age population. No Democrat has won a Senate seat in Mississippi since 1982.

Cochran, 80, resigned because of ill health. He has served in Congress since 1972.

Mississippi U.S. Senator Thad Cochran will resign April 1

Ill health forces Mississippi’s senior senator from office after nearly 46 years on Capitol Hill

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

WASHINGTON (CFP) — U.S. Senator Thad Cochran will resign from the Senate effective April 1 for health reasons, triggering a special election that will put both of Mississippi’s Senate seats up for grabs this November.

U.S. Senator Thad Cochran

“I regret my health has become an ongoing challenge,” Cochran said in a March 5 statement announcing his departure. “My hope is by making this announcement now, a smooth transition can be ensured so (the people of Mississippi’s) voice will continue to be heard in Washington, D.C.”

Governor Phil Bryant will appoint a temporary replacement for Cochran until the remaining two years of his term can be filled by a special election in November. Politico reported that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is urging Bryant to appoint himself to the vacancy, which would give him an advantage in pursuing the seat permanently in November.

Cochran’s decision comes just four days after the filing deadline closed for the state’s June primary. After months of speculation that Cochran’s seat could come open, Republican State Senator Chris McDaniel–who fought a bruising primary against Cochran in 2014–committed to making a primary run instead against Cochran’s Senate seatmate, Roger Wicker.

McDaniel could drop out of the race against Wicker and run in the special election for Cochran’s seat, although those calculations would be affected by Bryant’s decision on who will replace Cochran.

After Cochran’s announcement, McDaniel issued a statement saying he would “monitor developments”  and “all options remain on the table as we determine the best way to ensure that Mississippi elects conservatives to the United States Senate.”

Cochran, 80, chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, was hospitalized last fall for a urinary tract infection that kept him away from the Capitol for several weeks, raising questions about ability to continue in office.

While he remained chair of the committee, the No. 2 Republican on the panel, U.S. Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, has filled in for Cochran during his frequent absences.

Cochran has served in Congress for nearly 46 years. He was elected to the U.S. House in 1972 and the Senate in 1978, becoming the first Republican elected statewide in Mississippi since Reconstruction.

His toughest race came in 2014, when McDaniel narrowly beat him in the first round of voting in the GOP primary to force a runoff. However, the Republican establishment roared back in favor of the veteran senator, who took the runoff by 7,700 votes.

McDaniel unsuccessfully challenged the result, alleging that the Cochran campaign had induced Democrats to vote illegally in the Republican primary. Under state law, Democratic voters were free to vote in the runoff if they had not voted during the first round in the Democratic primary, a tactic Cochran’s campaign openly encouraged.

The contentious 2014 campaign left bruised feelings in the Magnolia State, particularly after McDaniel supporter Clayton Kelly sneaked into a nursing home to photograph Cochran’s wife, who was suffering from dementia, in order to collect material for a political video alleging that Cochran was involved in an extramarital affair. McDaniel denied any involvement in the scheme.

Kelly later went to prison, and Rose Cochran died in December 2014. Senator Cochran married Kay Webber, a longtime staffer in his Washington office, in 2015.

Chris McDaniel launches bid to unseat Mississippi U.S. Senator Roger Wicker

McDaniel, a state senator, came close to defeating Mississippi’s other U.S. senator, Thad Cochran, in 2014

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ELLISVILLE, Mississippi (CFP) — Just four years after coming from out of nowhere to nearly topple Mississippi’s venerable U.S. Senator Thad Cochran, State Senator Chris McDaniel is taking aim again, but this time at Cochran’s Senate seatmate, Roger Wicker.

State Senator Chris McDaniel

Calling the Republican Party “untethered,” McDaniel announced his primary run against Wicker before a hometown crowd in Ellisville February 28, triggering what is likely to be a contentious struggle between the GOP’s establishment and Tea Party wings.

“It’s time to reassert who we are. Foundational principles matter,” said McDaniel, who went on to take a shot at politicians who, he said, change once they get to Washington and find themselves surrounded by “all that marble, all that money, and all those lobbyists.”

“Why do you keep sending the same old men to represent you?” McDaniel said, a dig at Wicker, 66, and Cochran, 80, who together have spent almost 70 years in Congress. “They are more concerned about (Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell than they are you.”

“They betray you. They betray you to empower themselves. They forget about the regular people in Mississippi,” he said. “I’m tired of electing people from Mississippi who go to Washington to score points for the other team.”

However, McDaniel will be making his challenge against Wicker without the backing of President Donald Trump, who has tweeted his support for the incumbent:

“@SenatorWicker of Mississippi has been a great supporter and incredible help in getting our massive Tax Cut Bill done and approved. Also big help on cutting regs. I am with him in his re-election all the way!”

But if Trump is not embracing McDaniel, McDaniel made it clear that he would be embracing Trump.

“Donald Trump told us he wanted to drain the swamp. And I’m going to go there and help him drain the swamp,” he said.

U.S. Senator Roger Wicker

After McDaniel’s announcement, Wicker released a statement saying he was “looking forward to this campaign and sharing my record of successfully fighting to reduce job-killing regulations, confirm conservative judges, enact historic tax cuts, rebuild our military, and honor our veterans.”

“We will work hard to once again earn the votes and support of all Mississippians.”

McDaniel, 45, has served in the Mississippi Senate since 2008. In 2014, he challenged Cochran, who began serving in Congress when McDaniel was in diapers, and narrowly beat him in the first round of voting to force a runoff. However, the Republican establishment roared back in favor of the veteran senator, who took the runoff by 7,700 votes.

McDaniel unsuccessfully challenged the result, alleging that the Cochran campaign had induced Democrats to vote illegally in the Republican primary. Under state law, Democratic voters were free to vote in the runoff if they had not voted during the first round in the Democratic primary, a tactic Cochran’s campaign openly encouraged.

The contentious 2014 campaign left bruised feelings in the Magnolia State, particularly after McDaniel supporter Clayton Kelly sneaked into a nursing home to photograph Cochran’s wife, who was suffering from dementia, in order to collect material for a political video alleging that Cochran was involved in an extramarital affair. McDaniel denied any involvement in the scheme.

Kelly later went to prison, and Rose Cochran died in December 2014. Senator Cochran married Kay Webber, a longtime staffer in his Washington office, in 2015.

In recent months, Cochran has been in ill health, leading to speculation that his seat might open up for McDaniel to try to fill. However, with the filing deadline for Wicker’s seat coming up March 1, McDaniel opted for a primary challenge instead.

McDaniel will be able to rely on support from Tea Party and conservative groups critical of the Senate Republican leadership, who backed him in his campaign against Cochran. He has also reportedly been meeting with Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, as part of Bannon’s efforts to recruit challengers to run against incumbent Republican senators.

Wicker was elected to the Senate in 2006 after serving six terms in the U.S. House and won re-election easily in 2012. The winner of the GOP primary would be a prohibitive favorite in Mississippi, which hasn’t elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate since 1982.

Democratic hopes for an Alabama-style upset in neighboring Mississippi were dashed in January when Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley, a distant relative of Elvis Presley, decided not to run. The only Democrat to file for the seat is political newcomer Jensen Bohren, a Bernie Sanders supporter.

Click to watch Chris McDaniel’s full announcement speech

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