Mississippi GOP state Sen. Chris McDaniel is dropping his primary challenge to Sen. Roger Wicker, he announced Wednesday, and will instead run for the open seat coming as a result of Sen. Thad Cochran's pending resignation next month.
McDaniel’s decision means Republicans won’t have to spend resources against a potentially pesky primary challenger, but could be a headache for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose allies are determined to keep McDaniel out of the Senate. McDaniel nearly defeated Cochran in a 2014 primary challenge.
But the announcement also dials up the pressure on GOP Gov. Phil Bryant, who will appoint someone to fill Cochran's seat until November. All the candidates, potentially including the eventual appointee, will run on a nonpartisan ballot together Nov. 6. If no candidate earns a majority of the vote, the top two finishers will face off in a runoff later that month.
Bryant has ruled out appointing himself to the seat, and is considering Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, Rep. Gregg Harper and Agriculture and Commerce Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith as potential appointments.
McDaniel said in a statement he hopes to clear the field of other potential GOP candidates.
"By announcing early, we are asking Mississippi Republicans to unite around my candidacy and avoid another contentious contest among GOP members that would only improve the Democrats' chances of winning the open seat," McDaniel said in a statement announcing the change. "If we unite the party now and consolidate our resources, we can guarantee [President] Donald Trump will have a fighter who will stand with him."
Cochran announced his resignation earlier this month, with an effective date of April 1. The filing deadline for the state's June 5 primary passed before Cochran's announcement, leading McDaniel to say he would run against Wicker.
Wicker has already run ads attacking McDaniel over the latter’s criticisms of Trump during the 2016 election.
On the Democratic side, state House Minority Leader David Baria and venture capitalist Howard Sherman are running for Wicker’s seat, while former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy is considering a run for Cochran’s seat.