Senate: Utah & Mississippi

By Jim Ellis

March 13, 2017 — Originally elected in 1976, no Republican senator has served longer than Utah’s Orrin Hatch, and he is the eighth longest-serving member in American history. At the end of last week, he informed the media that he’s “planning on” running for an eighth term in 2018.

In 2012, Sen. Hatch indicated that he would be serving his final term upon election that year, but now his intention has apparently changed. The press office statement proved less definitive than Sen. Hatch’s words, however, suggesting that there is still a possibility for retirement.

“Senator Hatch appreciates the encouragement he’s receiving to run for reelection. While he has not made a final decision about his plans for 2018, he has made plans thus far to ensure all options remain on the table,” came the official statement clarifying the Senator’s earlier comments.

Earlier in the year, former governor and US ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman (R), indicated an interest in running for the Senate. He said at the time that he did not intend to challenge Sen. Hatch, should the latter decide to seek re-election. With Huntsman now appearing to be President Trump’s choice for Ambassador to Russia, it is unlikely that he will be in the Senate campaign picture irrespective of what Sen. Hatch decides.

Former Massachusetts governor and GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney also was considering launching a Senate campaign. He did not qualify his comments regarding Sen. Hatch’s re-election plans, but it is assumed that he would not directly challenge the veteran Beehive State politician.

Utah is one of the strongest Republican states in the country, and regardless of what happens with the GOP nomination it is highly probable that the party will hold this seat. Based upon last week’s unfolding events, it appears that Sen. Hatch will be seeking yet another re-election victory.

Mississippi

In 2014, state Sen. Chris McDaniel challenged veteran Sen. Thad Cochran in the Republican primary and came very close to beating him. In fact, McDaniel placed first in the primary election and if not for a third candidate taking just 1.5 percent, he might have won the nomination.

In the subsequent run-off, the turnout swelled by an unprecedented 20 percent — often, run-off participation rates are half of the number voting in the first election — and thanks to strong support from the African-American community, Cochran rebounded to score a close 51-49 percent Republican run-off victory.

Afterward, McDaniel publicly pondered challenging Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Biloxi) in the 2016 primary, but decided against making such a move. McDaniel was unopposed in the 2015 local Republican primary for his Jones County-anchored state Senate seat, and was re-elected in the general election with more than 85 percent of the vote.

Last week, it was reported that the conservative state legislator might return to seeking federal office, this time possibly launching a challenge to Sen. Roger Wicker (R) who will stand for a second full term in 2018.

McDaniel confirms that he is “definitely considering” the race, saying that Wicker and the congressional delegation have been too passive, “rather than championing conservative reform in D.C.”

Sen. Wicker, fresh from chairing the National Republican Senatorial Committee and seeing how well McDaniel fared against Sen. Cochran, will not be caught napping. Still, such a challenge will be well worth watching and brings a new twist to what otherwise would be an uneventful re-election campaign.

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