They will have to decide whether to try to run a legitimate, adequately funded candidate in Mississippi for the office of United States senator.
Conventional wisdom is that incumbent Republican Sen. Roger Wicker of Tupelo will be difficult for a Democrat to defeat in a general election in reliably red Mississippi.
But there is also a belief that Wicker could face at least some electorate peril in a Republican primary against a populist leaning, anti establishment candidate, such as state Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville.
And McDaniel has stated publicly he is seriously considering such a challenge.
McDaniel, of course, came within a whisker of defeating the state’s senior U.S. senator, Thad Cochran, a bona fide Mississippi political icon, in the 2014 Republican primary. McDaniel led the primary over Cochran, but missed garnering the required majority by 3,439 votes out of 318,895 votes cast. Cochran rallied to defeat McDaniel in the runoff and then cruised to victory against Booneville’s Travis Childers, a former U.S. House member and chancery clerk, in the general election.
Most believe Wicker will be better prepared for a McDaniel challenge and will not be sneaked up on like Cochran was in 2014.
Still the victory by former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore in a recent Republican primary in a special election for a Senate seat gives anti-establishment candidates like McDaniel hope in Mississippi. And it could give Mississippi Democrats hope.
Recent polls put Moore in a dead heat with the Democratic candidate in the race to replace Jeff Sessions who resigned from the Senate to be President Donald Trump’s attorney general. Alabama is traditionally more Republican, redder, than Mississippi.
If Democrat Doug Jones, a former U.S. attorney, defeats or even gets close to beating Moore, Mississippi Democrats have to think they need a candidate in the race should McDaniel or another Tea Party-like candidate challenge Wicker.
It would be political malpractice for them not to have a candidate in case Wicker was upset in the primary.
Then, the question is who would that candidate be.
The Democratic politician with the most statewide name identification is Attorney General Jim Hood of Chickasaw County. He is presumably preparing for a possible gubernatorial run in 2010. If he is serous about running for governor, it would do him no good to enter a U.S. Senate race.
Perhaps the Democrat who has some name identification to make such a race is Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley of Nettleton.
He has run multiple times in the northern one-third of the state without ever losing. And his role as chair of the three-person Public Service Commission and his outspoken concerns about the Kemper County coal gasification plant that in so many ways has been a boondoggle has given him a modest amount of statewide name identification.
He has credentials as a conservative Democrat, cutting taxes on more than one occasion as mayor of Nettleton. Plus, his oratory/communications skill is as good as those of any politician in the state.
The drawback is that politicians do not need to lose too many races and while he might have a decent chance against McDaniel he would be a heavy underdog against the incumbent Wicker. But at age 40, a loss in a statewide race would not be devastating for Presley.
For his part, Presley, does not rule anything in or out in terms of his political future. He says only that he enjoys serving on the Public Service Commission and is focusing on the duties that go with that office.
But no doubt, his name will be mentioned more and more in terms of potential statewide campaigns – perhaps for a campaign for the U.S. Senate.
» BOBBY HARRISON is the Daily Journal’s Capitol correspondent. Readers can contact him at (601) 946-9931.
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