Cochran trailed his tea party challenger, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, in Tuesday’s Republican primary. McDaniel holds a lead of less than 1 percent. With 99 percent of the precincts called, it appears McDaniel is bumping up to 50 percent of the vote, to Cochran's 49 percent. If McDaniel does not pass the 50-percent threshold, a runoff will be held June 24 to determine which candidate will face former Rep. Travis Childers (D-Miss.) in November.
The Club for Growth, which poured more than $2.4 million into the race in support of McDaniel, urged Cochran to end his campaign the morning after the primary.
“Yesterday’s historic vote makes it clear that Mississippians are ready to turn the page to a new generation of bold, conservative leadership. Senator Cochran has served honorably, but the rationale for his candidacy ended yesterday. He said he didn’t want to run again, but everyone asked him to. Well, a plurality of Mississippi Republican voters just proved that they don’t want him to,” Club for Growth President Chris Chocola said in a statement Wednesday.
“Senator Cochran has had five decades in Washington and it’s clear that six more years of the same won’t have any impact on the direction of our country. He should do the honorable thing and decline to contest the runoff. Should he choose to persist, the Club for Growth PAC and conservatives throughout Mississippi will vigorously pursue this race to its conclusion, and we will look forward to the election of Senator Chris McDaniel,” Chocola continued.
Republicans now face a challenging decision: remain loyal to Cochran, the second-longest serving Republican in the Senate, or start to take on a tone of neutrality, to avoid damaging either candidate's prospects against Childers.
Early Wednesday morning, the National Republican Senatorial Committee tamped down any expectation that it would back away from Cochran.
"Should Mississippi go to a runoff, we will expect a vigorous debate about the future of our country over the next three weeks and we will continue to fully support Thad Cochran," NRSC Executive Director Rob Collins said in the statement.