That’s the question many Republicans are asking today, and the answer is largely dependent on the financial support outside groups are willing to lend the six-term incumbent, who had little in the way of money or a campaign organization when he announced — to the dismay of many top GOP strategists — that he would run for reelection.
After a grueling campaign, both Cochran and his challenger, state senator Chris McDaniel, have mostly burned through their financial resources. The groups that have supported Cochran worry he has also burned through his energy, which will prevent him from barnstorming the state to boost turnout, as he needs to do, in order to win the runoff election set for June 24.
McDaniel has two giants in his corner: the Club for Growth, which has spent $2.5 million on the race already, and the Senate Conservatives Fund, which has spent $1.1 million. (Club for Growth president Chris Chocola called on Cochran to withdraw from the race on Wednesday and indicated the group would continue to pound the senator if he refuses. “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 said.)
Cochran also has two, though they are less muscular: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has spent $500,000 in the primary, and the Mississippi Conservatives PAC, chaired by Henry Barbour, nephew of former governor Haley Barbour, which received a $120,000 from American Crossroads during the primary.
But Crossroads on Wednesday went out of its way to slap Cochran in the face, announcing it would not offer the flagging senator any financial support. “This is not our fight,” Crossroads spokesman Paul Lindsay told the Cook Political Report.
Strategists in Washington face the following dilemma: Cochran is the odds-on favorite to win the general election if he wins the primary, while polls show a more competitive race between McDaniel and his Democratic challenger Travis Childers. “Our task is twofold at the NRSC: Bring back all of our Republican senators and build a Republican majority,” says National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brad Dayspring. “When you’re building a majority, you don’t take chances.”
But the party itself appears to be lukewarm: Even NRSC chairman Jerry Moran of Kansas told Politico, “It’s always seemed to me that incumbent senators ought to be able to raise the money they need to get reelected.” He added, “No decision has been made about money but my inclination is that this is not about NRSC money going into Mississippi.”
The Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday said in a statement that it would support Cochran, but did not indicate the level of support it would offer. With Crossroads out, it will have to be a lot. Time will tell.