Most Fascinating Races of 2014: Mississippi Senate

Cochran faces his toughest re-election battle in 30 years. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The race for Senate in Mississippi boasts nearly every facet of the national GOP divide in a state already struggling with its sense of conservatism.

Six-term Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., announced earlier this month that he would seek re-election, setting up a primary against a tea-party-backed challenger, state Sen. Chris McDaniel. Influential national conservative groups — Senate Conservatives Fund, the Club for Growth and the Madison Project — had already backed McDaniel.

But Cochran remains beloved by a certain class of Mississippi operatives who plan to put up a fierce fight to save him. GOP lobbyist Henry Barbour encapsulated that sentiment in September, when he warned McDaniel not to run.

“I think he will get his head handed to him, and that will be what he deserves,” Barbour said. “[But] it’s a free country.”

Thanks to inexpensive media markets in Mississippi, outside groups are expected to saturate the local television airwaves for this race.

But this race is fascinating and different from other tea party-versus-establishment battles for another reason: Mississippi is the nation's poorest state. For many Mississippi Republicans, that makes this race about more than a referendum on Cochran.

A senior appropriator, Cochran serves with a relatively young congressional delegation. If McDaniel defeats him, the state will lose an advocate for the federal subsidies that have propped up its economy for ages. On the flip side, a McDaniels win signals the Magnolia State's dependence on federal funds could change drastically.

Editor's note: Not all congressional races are created equal, and Roll Call's politics desk admits to playing favorites. So in the spirit of the holidays, these are a few of our favorite things (races) to cover this cycle. We're shining a spotlight on our 12 most fascinating races through the new year — in no particular order. Happy holidays from @RollCallPols!

Check out more fascinating races of 2014: California's 31st District, California's 17th District, and Illinois' 13th District.