In something of a surprise, Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, one of the longest-serving Republican senators, announced Friday that he will run for re-election next year.
The senator first shared the news in an interview with Gannet.
The move sets up a contentious re-election fight between Cochran and conservative groups that have made him a prime target in the Republican primary. Cochran, who turns 76 this weekend, will face 41-year-old rising conservative star and state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who has already snagged endorsements from the Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund.
"Republicans in Mississippi have a real choice for the United States Senate this year. They can vote for Senator Cochran, or they can vote for a more fiscally conservative alternative who is dedicated to limited government and passing policies that will increase economic growth," Club for Growth President Chris Chocola said in a statement.
"The Club for Growth PAC believes that State Senator Chris McDaniel is a constitutional conservative who will fight to repeal ObamaCare, cut spending, and stop President Obama’s reckless agenda. The Club for Growth PAC looks forward to strongly supporting his candidacy for the United States Senate."
According to the latest campaign filings, Cochran has raised less than $1 million for his re-election campaign, prompting speculation that he was leaning toward retirement.
Now, he becomes a huge target for conservatives, and joins Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and at least five other GOP incumbents facing a primary challenge.
Before the practice was banned in 2010, Cochran was known in the Senate as someone who steered a lot of federal money to Mississippi through earmarks. Part of McDaniel's campaign will be to emphasize the anti-spending attitude that has prevailed in the Tea Party since its inception.
Right after news broke of Cochran's announcement, McDaniel's official account tweeted this:
Now is the time. Please join us!— Sen. Chris McDaniel (@senatormcdaniel) December 6, 2013
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