Mississippi’s Cindy Hyde-Smith will be coming to the U.S. Senate next month.
Gov. Phil Bryant formally tapped the Republican agriculture and commerce commissioner to fill the unexpired term of Senate Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran, who is poised to go out with a win on an omnibus spending bill. Currently in his seventh term, Cochran is resigning effective April 1 for health reasons.
Bryant made the announcement Wednesday afternoon from Hyde-Smith’s hometown of Brookhaven.
The senator-designee highlighted her work as agriculture commissioner, while praising President Donald Trump’s work on rolling back regulations, making specific reference to the Waters of the United States rule.
Hyde-Smith, a former state senator, also noted her involvement in what was also one of Cochran’s many priorities: the establishment and maintenance of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s catfish inspection program. The regulation of catfish and a similar species from Asia has been key to the domestic catfish industry.
“I worked hard with our Mississippi delegation to make sure proper inspection is now being done,” Hyde-Smith said.
She highlighted her support for Second Amendment rights and opposition to abortion, as well as advocacy for the state’s defense business.
“The American dream is alive and well in Mississippi,” she said.
Cochran in a statement Wednesday called Hyde-Smith “a very well-qualified person whose experiences and excellent character will benefit our state in Washington.”
Bryant’s decision was not a surprise, and Hyde-Smith will run in November to fill out the rest of Cochran’s Senate term, which is up in 2020. Hyde-Smith will be the first woman to represent Mississippi in Congress.
First elected to the state Senate in 1999, Hyde-Smith was a Democrat until she switched parties in 2010. She has twice been elected statewide on the Republican ticket — winning election as agriculture commissioner by 16 points in 2011, and then re-election four years later by 25 points.
In August 2016, Hyde-Smith was named co-chairman of the Trump campaign’s agriculture advisory committee.
Candidates from all parties will run together on a single ballot in the November special election, with the top two advancing to a runoff if no one wins more than 50 percent of the vote. Both Mississippi Senate seats will be up for grabs this year — GOP Sen. Roger Wicker is seeking a second term.
Republican state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who made an unsuccessful bid to dislodge Cochran in the 2014 GOP primary, announced last week he was switching from mounting a primary challenge to Wicker to running for Cochran’s seat.
Watch: As Cochran Moves On, His Famous Senate Desk Will Stay With Mississippi
McDaniel’s campaign released an open letter to Trump on Wednesday morning from an assortment of Republican officials, encouraging the president to avoid an endorsement of Hyde-Smith. The officials suggested her candidacy, rather than McDaniel’s, could cause a reprise of last year’s special Senate election in Alabama, which saw Democrat Doug Jones upset Republican nominee Roy Moore.
“She is very unlikely to make the run-off in November, which is why we are writing to you, asking that you not lend your name to a candidate that is likely to lose,” the Republicans writing the McDaniel letter said of Hyde-Smith. “Thank you for considering our request. We are all supporting you and your agenda to Make America Great Again!”
“Knowing the establishment’s opposition to conservatives, it was not at all surprising that they would choose a former Democrat. Nevertheless, I am pleased that Mississippi voters will have a clear choice in November for the open seat for United States Senate,” McDaniel said in a statement. “They can choose from among the Democratic candidates or they can vote for a lifelong conservative Republican.”
But Republican leaders have long viewed McDaniel as a problematic candidate. There’s also a potentially viable Democrat in the race. Former Rep. Mike Espy, a onetime Agriculture secretary in the Clinton administration, has tossed his hat into the contest.
Simone Pathé contributed to this report.