WASHINGTON — Sen. Thad Cochran raised $500,000 for his re-election over the last month during a statewide tour that included stops in Jackson, Oxford and Gulfport, his campaign said.
Republican state Sen. Chris McDaniel, Cochran’s top GOP challenger, also is traveling the state and hopes to raise at least $2 million during his campaign.
“This is going to be a statewide grass-roots effort,” said Noel Fritsch, a spokesman for McDaniel’s campaign.
The fundraising battle is intensifying as the candidates travel the state urging voters and groups to open their wallets.
But much of the spending on the closely watched race is expected to come from political action committees called super PACs that can raise unlimited amounts to run ads opposing or supporting individual candidates.
Those super PACs, including the Senate Conservatives Fund and the state-based Mississippi Conservatives, are expected to spend millions on what political experts say will be one of the country’s most competitive Senate primaries.
Whoever wins the June GOP primary, they say, likely will win the seat.
“We think this race will be a bellwether in terms of determining the direction of the party ...,” said Matt Hoskins, executive director of the Senate Conservatives Fund. “We’re going to do everything that we can to help Chris McDaniel get his message out and win this race.”
Democratic party leaders expect to announce a candidate in upcoming days. The qualifying deadline is March 1.
Bill Marcy, who ran as a Republican in previous races, has submitted papers to run as a Democrat.
Rickey Cole, chairman of the Mississippi Democratic Party, said it will take about $3 million to win.
“With control of the U.S. Senate at stake, that will be a comparatively small amount,” Cole said.
Political experts say it’s hard to predict how much will be spent on the race.
“The super PAC does add a whole new unpredictable layer to all of this,” said Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.
By the end of December, Cochran had $1 million, compared to $350,000 for McDaniel, according to campaign reports filed with the Federal Election Commission last month.
But McDaniel raised $500,000 in the fourth quarter of 2013, compared to Cochran’s $333,337, the reports show.
McDaniel’s campaign said it expects the six-term senator to raise more money.
“Thad has the machine behind him. He has all the special interests and the lobbyists,” Fritsch said. “Forty years of representation in Washington builds a lot of those tentacles of control into our long-tenured politician.”
Political experts say Cochran will have no problem raising money, particularly from fellow Republicans in Mississippi and outside the state.
“He’s got to raise it, but it’s there to be raised,” Duffy said. “The (national) party is not worried about ... Cochran and money.”
Duffy pointed to Cochran’s experienced campaign staff and noted he’s supported by establishment Republicans, including former Gov. Haley Barbour and Sen. Roger Wicker.
Stephen Rozman, a political scientist at Tougaloo College, said it helps Cochran that Mississippians tend to support incumbents.
“What’s going to help Cochran is that people here are very traditional,” Rozman said. “Thad Cochran is not somebody who has offended many people. He’s not a lightning rod.”
Clarion-Ledger Political Editor Geoff Pender contributed to this report.