Republican Sen. Thad Cochran has been largely absent from the Capitol all year due to poor health, and in a new piece in Politico, an unnamed GOP senator who serves with Cochran on the Appropriations Committee says, "The understanding is that he will leave after Jan. 1." Other operatives "in contact with Cochran's office" say they think he'll stick around until a big spending bill is passed, possibly in January or February.
If Cochran were to resign next year, Republican Gov. Phil Bryant would appoint a replacement. However, a special election would then be held, possibly in November, meaning Mississippi would (like Minnesota) host two simultaneous Senate races in 2018. Mississippi is of course a very red state, but it's considerably less red than neighboring Alabama: Last year, Trump won it 58-40, 10 points closer than his 62-34 win in Alabama, and we all know what just happened there.
The two elections would function very differently, though. The race for GOP Sen. Roger Wicker's seat would involve a traditional June primary, followed by a November general election. There would be no primary at all for the Cochran seat, however. Instead, all candidates from all parties would run together on a single ballot, and in the event no one were to take more than 50 percent of the vote, a runoff would be held between the top two vote-getters. What's more, the race would be officially nonpartisan, meaning that candidates would run without party labels next to their names.
Such a scenario could introduce a lot of uncertainty. A ton of Republicans could pile into the race, including neo-Confederate dead-ender Chris McDaniel, who's publicly been considering a challenge to Wicker but could easily switch over to a hypothetical special election. Someone like McDaniel would definitely not be the national GOP's preferred choice, whereas Democrats would likely rally behind Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley, a strong candidate who has also been eyeing the Wicker race (but likely would only bite if McDaniel also ran for that seat).
In short, it would create another big headache for the GOP in a cycle filled with them, and would, at the very least, force them to play defense in a state they truly shouldn't have to spend a minute thinking about. But as we've seen over and over again, the political environment has put a ton of races on the map that should otherwise have been snoozers.