Washington Post: GOP intraparty clash poised to shape U.S. Senate contest in Mississippi

December 27, 2017

Mississippi’s 2018 U.S. Senate race is poised as the next possible front in the fight between rival wings of the Republican Party, a campaign that could test how the GOP’s populist and establishment forces engage in the aftermath of this month’s bitter Alabama contest.

If state Sen. Chris McDaniel, the hard-right’s top recruit for the seat, decides to challenge U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, he will be up against the incumbent’s well-funded allies and President Trump, who has pledged Wicker his support.

Those dynamics could trigger a broad intraparty clash such as the one that played out in Alabama, where the GOP lost a Senate seat for the first time in a quarter-century.

But Mississippi’s insurgent faction faces brisk head winds in its bid to topple another incumbent.

McDaniel has held back from launching a high-profile challenge to Wicker as he has explored lower-risk options, including possibly succeeding Sen. Thad Cochran, who narrowly defeated him in 2014. Cochran, 80, has been battling health problems this year, and has appeared to be in delicate condition at times in the Capitol, sparking speculation about how much longer he intends to stay in office. However, Republican Gov. Phil Bryant has indicated that he is not interested in naming McDaniel if the seats opens up, according to people familiar with his views.

A recent poll gave Sen. Roger Wicker a double-digit lead over his possible challenger. (Bill Clark/AP)

In an interview last week, McDaniel, 45, said he will announce in January whether he will challenge Wicker. By this point in the 2014 cycle, he had launched a campaign against Cochran.