JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — State Auditor Stacey Pickering says he will run for the U.S. Senate in 2014 if Republican Sen. Thad Cochran does not seek re-election.
Cochran has held the seat since 1978 and has said he'll decide by the end of this month whether to seek another six-year term. However, a Cochran spokesman said the senator hasn't specified when he'll announce his plans.
Cochran turns 76 in December. If he seeks another term, Cochran will run with the advantages of incumbency, including name recognition and nearly $804,000 in campaign cash already on hand. If he doesn't run, the race is expected to attract several candidates.
Pickering, a Republican, was elected state auditor in 2007 and re-elected in 2011.
"If he does retire, it is our full intention to run for the U.S. Senate," said Pickering, who would not discuss what he might offer voters. "I don't think we're at that point yet ... to open a campaign. It is very premature."
Pickering said Tuesday that he would expect Cochran to be very deliberate in deciding whether to run again.
If Cochran does not run, it would create a free-for-all Republican primary.
Republican state Sen. Chris McDaniel of Ellisville announced in October that he's running for Senate, regardless of what Cochran does. McDaniel has in-state tea party support. The Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund, which have been active in Republican primaries in other states, have bought TV ads supporting McDaniel.
Republican Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann has said he'll run if Cochran doesn't. Third District U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves are frequently mentioned as other possible Republican contenders if Cochran opts out.
Former U.S. Rep. Travis Childers, a Democrat, has said he's considering running for the U.S. Senate in 2014 but won't commit until he hears what Cochran will do.
Childers, of Booneville, had been Prentiss County chancery clerk more than 26 years when was elected to north Mississippi's 1st District congressional seat in mid-2008 as a fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrat. In November 2010, he was unseated by Republican Alan Nunnelee of Tupelo, a longtime state senator who said defeating Childers would help remove California Democrat Nancy Pelosi as speaker of the House. Republicans won control of the House in that election.
After the loss, Childers returned to selling real estate.
State Democratic Party chairman Rickey Cole said in October that he would not expect a big-name Democratic candidate to emerge if Cochran seeks re-election. If Cochran doesn't run again, possible candidates include former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and Ocean Springs Mayor Connie Moran.
Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson, Miss., contributed to this report.