Possible GOP foe for Sen. Roger Wicker ‘looking for a fight’

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A tea party-backed lawmaker who lost a hard-fought race against one of Mississippi’s two U.S. senators in 2014 is strongly hinting he will run this year against the state’s other Republican senator, Roger Wicker.

Republican Chris McDaniel has said for months that he might challenge Wicker in the GOP primary. In a live event Monday night on Facebook, McDaniel strengthened his language, telling viewers: “We’re looking for a fight. And I can’t wait to have you on my team again.”

McDaniel said he will hold an event Wednesday in his hometown of Ellisville, a day before the candidates’ qualifying deadline, to clarify his intentions.

“I think you can probably read between the lines as to why I would be holding an event,” he said.

McDaniel, a state senator, never conceded his Republican primary loss to longtime U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran in 2014. That race grabbed national attention after a McDaniel supporter entered a nursing home without permission and photographed Cochran’s wife, who was bedridden with dementia. Images of her appeared briefly online. McDaniel said he had no connection to the incident.

Wicker campaign spokesman Justin Brasell said he had no comment Monday about a possible challenge by McDaniel.

Wicker has been in the Senate since late 2007. In 2016 he led the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which raised money for candidates nationwide. He had more than $4.1 million in his campaign account at the end of 2017, according to the Federal Election Commission.

Republican strategist Rick Tyler told The Associated Press in an interview Monday that he is “helping” McDaniel, although McDaniel “doesn’t have a campaign.”

“He’s a state senator and he’s got a political career and I do political advising, guide people through decisions,” Tyler said. “He’s a pretty smart guy.”

Tyler was a spokesman for the 2016 presidential campaign of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. McDaniel campaigned for Cruz.

McDaniel, 45, told The Associated Press last week that he is considering three races: U.S. Senate this year, lieutenant governor in 2019 or U.S. Senate in 2020.

McDaniel began trying to unseat Cochran during the autumn of 2013, about eight months before the 2014 primary. He acknowledged that he would be getting a much later start if he enters this year’s Senate race against Wicker. But McDaniel also said he has about 6,000 volunteers ready to start working statewide, no matter which race he enters — a network he lacked at the start of the last race.

Wicker has received $5,400 from Vice President Mike Pence’s political action committee, Great America Committee. He was endorsed last week by former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who rallied social conservatives when he ran for president in 2012 and 2016. Wicker has also announced that he is supported by 68 local leaders in Mississippi of President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Steve Bannon, a former adviser to Trump, had been urging McDaniel to run against Wicker this year. Bannon’s involvement faded after he ran a losing campaign for Republican Roy Moore in a special U.S. Senate election in Alabama in late 2017.

No Democrat had entered the Senate race in Mississippi by Monday, but state party chairman Bobby Moak said he expects the party to have a candidate. The state has not had a Democrat in the U.S. Senate since John C. Stennis retired in 1989.


Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: <a target=”&mdash;blank” href=”http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus”>http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus</a> .

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