The GOP will unexpectedly have to defend two Mississippi seats in the U.S. Senate in order to preserve their tiny 51-49 majority.
Senator Roger Wicker is up for re-election and 80-year-old Senator Thad Cochran, first elected to the Senate in 1978, announced on Monday that he will resign in April due to health issues.
A special election to replace Cochran will be held in November on the same day of Wicker’s regular election.
Wicker’s open seat is expected to attract many candidates from both parties. Democrat Mike Espy, the first African-American person to win a congressional seat in Mississippi, says he intends to run.
In regards to Cochran’s seat, the tea party-backed Mississippi senator Chris McDaniel said he hoped to challenge Wicker but also said he might jump into the Cochran special election. If McDaniel runs, it could prove to be problematic for the Mississippi GOP. On 2014, when President Barack Obama was unpopular, some polling showed that McDaniel was actually in danger of losing a hypothetical matchup against Democrat Travis Childers.
Mississippi’s Republican Governor Phil Bryant is looking for a temporary replacement for Cochran, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has suggested Bryant step down and have someone appoint him to the position instead.
A deep red state like Mississippi could prove challenging for Democratic hopefuls, but if Republicans push a problematic, Roy Moore-esque candidate or an unpopular general election candidate, the Dems could have a chance. While McDaniels isn’t nearly as extreme as Moore, if Democrats can flip a solid conservative state like Alabama due to an unpopular GOP candidate, then why shouldn’t Mississippi have at least a slim chance?
One Democratic name that has already been floated is Attorney General Jim Hood, the last Democrat to be elected statewide in Mississippi, who has won all four of his attorney-general campaigns by at least 10 points. Hood says he’s interested in running in the 2019 gubernatorial race, leaving his 2018 seemingly open.
Another name is Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley, who was national Democrats’ top choice to run against Wicker for Mississippi’s other Senate seat, but he turned it down in January. Perhaps he’ll reconsider or even run for Cochran’s seat.
CNN and FiveThirtyEight contributor Harry Enten points out that even though Democrats flipping seats in Mississippi is still a long shot, according to the data, it’s not inconceivable.