Tea Party Candidate Eyes Thad Cochran Primary Challenge

Cochran is considering retirement. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

As Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., mulls retirement, a local lawmaker is considering a mounting a primary challenge against him in the Magnolia State.

State Sen. Chris McDaniel, a Republican aligned with the tea party, confirmed to CQ Roll Call this week that he's considering challenging the six-term senator.

"We are keeping all of our options open because we want to do the right thing for the conservative movement," McDaniel said in a Wednesday phone interview. "No firm decision has been made one way or the other."

Many Mississippi Republican emphasized their support for Cochran to seek a seventh term, underscoring his valuable seniority. They are not happy with McDaniel's interest in ousting him.

“I think he will get his head handed to him, and that will be what he deserves,” Republican lobbyist Henry Barbour said of McDaniel’s potential Senate run in this week's edition of Farm Team. “[But] it’s a free country.”

McDaniel said that Barbour may be right, but that sentiment would not factor into his decision-making.

"I respect his opinion, but it’s the people’s seat," McDaniel said. "And if the people speak loud enough, there’s nothing he or anyone else can do."

McDaniel also confirmed he is  considering a challenge to Republican Rep. Steven M. Palazzo in the 4th District. Palazzo is one of the Club for Growth's top targets of the cycle, and the conservative group has featured him on its "Primary My Congressman" website. The group has yet to endorse a candidate in that race.

McDaniel said he could not recall if he has met with the group, but he said he has "met with dozens and dozens of groups across the country. "

While groups like Club for Growth are often powerful forces in GOP primary politics, Mississippi and the tea party have a complex relationship. Mississippi is a conservative state, but it is relatively poor and relies on federal funding.

McDaniel conceded that his home state gets more money back than it sends to the federal government each year.

"It doesn’t change the fact that we have to be responsible," he said. "We have to begin to make tough decisions."

For more on Magnolia State politics, check out Thursday's edition of "Farm Team" Roll Call's weekly state-by-state look at the up-and-coming politicos who may eventually run for Congress.