Thad Cochran, representing Mississippi in Washington, DC, or as some say, the establishment candidate.
The challenger, a conservative state senator from Jones County with party activists and young ideologues on his side.
The prize? A United States Senate seat.
But this isn’t 2014; it is 1978.
In 1978, then-Congressman Thad Cochran was running for the Republican nomination to succeed Democratic U.S. Senator Jim Eastland, and so was Charles Pickering.
Pickering was the Mississippi Republican Party Chairman and state Senator from Jones County. This is the same seat held later by his nephew Stacey Pickering, the current State Auditor, and now by Chris McDaniel, Cochran’s 2014 challenger.
Pickering had the enthused, young party activists on his side, a grassroots effort built largely by his campaign manager, one Haley Barbour (yes, that Haley Barbour, the future governor).
Pickering kept it close in much of the state in what was then a much smaller Republican Primary, but Cochran carried his congressional district handily giving him the win.
Cochran, of course, has gone on to serve multiple terms in the U.S. Senate, building seniority just as his predecessors had done. Mississippi voters have traditionally allowed their federal officials to remain in office for that very reason: seniority, the benefits of which are obvious.
Pickering’s future wasn’t all that shabby either, rising to the U.S. Court of Appeals. Oh, and his former law clerk just happens to be Chris McDaniel (yes, that one).
Are there lessons to be gleaned from this race some 36 years later? Perhaps, but the Republican Primary has changed greatly through growth of the party, technology, and other factors. Correlations could surely be made, however, just as I did in the previous post looking back at the 1982 U.S. Senate race between Barbour and Senator John Stennis.
But should the current senior Senator from Mississippi win, it would make for an interesting book-end for Cochran’s Senate career, one in which it began and may perhaps end by defeating a Jones County state senator in the Republican Primary.
** As a side note, isn’t it funny how various groups throw labels such as “establishment” around when their candidate is also part of the club. Politics is a fickle friend indeed.