- The Washington Times - Monday, March 5, 2018

Mississippi Republican Sen. Thad Cochran announced Monday that he would resign April 1 due to ill health, creating two Senate contests in the deep-red Southern state this year.

The powerful chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, elected the Senate in 1978 and now the tenth longest-serving senator in the nation’s history, has struggled with failing health for several months.

“I regret my health has become an ongoing challenge. I intend to fulfill my responsibilities and commitments to the people of Mississippi and the Senate through the completion of the 2018 appropriations cycle, after which I will formally retire from the U.S. Senate,” Mr. Cochran said in a statement.

Mr. Cochran said it had been “a great honor to serve the people of Mississippi and our country.”

“My hope is by making this announcement now, a smooth transition can be ensured so their voice will continue to be heard in Washington, D.C. My efforts, and those of my staff, to assist them will continue and transfer to my successor.”

He may not get his wish, as the Mississippi Republican Party is divided between an establishment and insurgent faction, and energized Democrats are hoping to repeat the unlikely success they had winning a special Senate election in neighboring Alabama in December.

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican, will appoint a temporary replacement. A special election will be held later to fill the remainder of the term, through January 2021.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell praised Mr. Cochran.

Thad knows there’s a big difference between making a fuss and making a difference. And the people of Mississippi — and our whole nation — have benefited from his steady determination to do the latter,” said the Kentucky Republican.

Mr. Cochran led the Appropriations Committee in 2005-06, channeling money to Mississippi and other Gulf Coast states for Hurricane Katrina recovery after the 2005 storm, and regained the committee chairmanship in January 2015, when the GOP again took control of the Senate.

Mild-mannered and known for working across party lines, Mr. Cochran easily won most of his reelection campaigns.

However, he struggled before winning a 2014 Republican primary over tea party-backed state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who received financial support from libertarian-leaning groups that criticized Mr. Cochran as a big spender.

That race grabbed national attention after a Mr. McDaniel supporter entered a nursing home without permission and photographed Mr. Cochran’s wife, Rose, who was bedridden with dementia. Images of her appeared briefly online. Mr. McDaniel said he had no connection to the incident. Rose Cochran died in December 2014.

Mr. McDaniel — who never conceded his loss to Mr. Cochran — announced last week that he will run this year against Mississippi’s other Republican senator, Roger Wicker, in November. But moments after making that announcement at a rally in his hometown of Ellisville, Mr. McDaniel said he could drop out of the Wicker race and run in the special election if Mr. Cochran resigned.

Mr. McDaniel said he was currently focused on unseating Mr. Wicker but that “all options remain on the table as we determine the best way to ensure that Mississippi elects conservatives to the United States Senate.”

“What is important is that Mississippi now has the unique opportunity to send two conservatives to the U.S. Senate to help President Trump get his ‘Make America Great Again’ agenda passed,” he said. “If Mississippi won’t send conservatives to the United States Senate, who will?”

When Mr. Cochran was first elected to the Senate in 1978, he became the first Republican in more than 100 years to win a statewide election in Mississippi.

⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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