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Cochran Baits Primary Hook With Catfish Fight

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Cochran, who is facing a primary challenger this year, is using his seniority as a political tool, especially on a stalled farm bill that some believe he is holding up largely on his own.

Just a couple of months ago, Republicans viewed Thad Cochran as the most likely senator to retire in 2014. But now that he’s seeking a seventh term, the Mississippi senator has more work to do than any other Republican in his chamber.

Cochran must pull the tarp off his dusty political operation to defeat a tea-party-backed primary challenger, state Sen. Chris McDaniel. That includes staffing up, reaching out to longtime party insiders across the state and kick-starting fundraising ahead of his primary, which is less than five months away.

On Capitol Hill, Cochran is wielding his seniority as a political tool. He has reasserted his authority on certain issues — especially on a stalled farm bill that some believe he is holding up largely on his own. As the top Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Cochran has taken a more aggressive stand to protect the parochial interests of Mississippi since he announced his re-election bid.

Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and her House counterparts, Frank D. Lucas, R-Okla., and Collin C. Peterson, D-Minn., want desperately to finish the farm bill. But Cochran has been the odd man out, dragging out the conference process with his objections to proposed changes to laws regarding catfish and farm manager subsidies.

Though catfish farming, labeling and regulation might seem trivial, it’s not to Cochran and the Magnolia State — home of Mississippi State University’s Thad Cochran National Warmwater Aquaculture Center and a billion-dollar catfish industry. Cochran appears willing to thwart the entire farm authorization bill over the measure, much to the chagrin of his colleagues but to the potential benefit of his re-election.

“Argh! I think he’s holding up the whole bill, I’ve heard,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said, before adding that he is not a farm bill conferee.

“It’s crazy,” McCain continued. “It’s a pure protectionist measure to preserve the catfish industry in Mississippi and the South, OK? And so, I said, look I’m interested in my constituents being able to buy catfish at a lower price than when there’s no competition.”

McCain called the catfish fight “outrageous and sometimes entertaining” but declined to say whether Cochran has intensified his efforts since launching his re-election campaign.

When asked to address the criticism of his colleague on the issue — and McCain certainly is not alone in it — Cochran defended his position.

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