Almanac A members-only database of searchable profiles compiled and adapted from the Almanac of American Politics

Biography

Elected: 1978, term expires 2020, 7th term.

Born: December 7, 1937, Pontotoc

Home: Jackson

Education: U. of MS, B.A. 1959, J.D. 1965, Rotary Fellow, Trinity Col., Ireland, 1963-64

Professional Career: Practicing atty., 1965–72.

Ethnicity: White/Caucasian

Religion: Baptist

Family: widowed , 2 children

Republican Thad Cochran, Mississippi’s senior senator, was elected in 1972 to the House and in 1978 to the Senate, where he sits at Jefferson Davis’s old desk. He personifies an all-but-vanished breed of Southern Republicans—amiable to all, conservative but not rigidly so, a devoted institutionalist, and a proficient procurer of funding for his poor, rural state. With the help of the national GOP establishment and his state's black voters, he escaped an embarrassing defeat in a June 2014 primary runoff. He returned in 2015 to chair the Appropriations Committee, a post he held a decade earlier.

Cochran grew up in small towns in northern Mississippi and near Jackson, the son of a principal and a mathematics teacher. Cochran was extremely athletic in high school and lettered in football, basketball, and baseball. He was also valedictorian of his senior class and a talented musician. (He still sometimes plays the baby grand piano in his Senate office for relaxation.) Cochran continued to excel academically at Ole Miss, where he was a cheerleader, which was not uncommon for men at that time and was in fact considered an honor. Cochran went on to get a law school degree from Ole Miss. He served in the Navy, spent a year abroad, and then practiced law in Jackson.

In 1968, he worked on the Nixon-Agnew presidential campaign in Mississippi, where Richard Nixon ran third. Four years later, when President Nixon was sweeping Mississippi, Cochran ran for Congress and was elected as a Republican from the Jackson-area district with a plurality against a white Democrat and a black independent. When segregationist Sen. James Eastland, a Democrat, retired, Cochran jumped into the race and once again won with a plurality over a white Democrat and a black independent.

In the House and in the Senate, he managed for years to amass a generally conservative record with little controversy or acrimony. His patrician demeanor, his refusal to engage in racial politics, and his Republican Party label—in a state where most whites have been voting Republican for president for three decades—have made him acceptable to voters at home. Until 2014, his toughest race came in 1984, when he was opposed by popular former Democratic Gov. William Winter. Winter could make a case for himself, but not against Cochran. Cochran outraised him $2.7 million to $738,000, and won 61%-39%.

In taking the gavel back at Appropriations in 2015, Cochran was in a prime position to help Republicans demonstrate  they could govern successfully. Though younger Republican senators are hardly his natural allies in getting spending bills rapidly passed, he does have the backing of the chamber's GOP leadership, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a fellow appropriator. He also has a long relationship with Maryland's Barbara Mikulski, the panel's top Democrat, who has assiduously sought his help on getting military and other spending for her state.

Cochran gave up his position as Appropriations' ranking Republican in January 2013 to take the same position on the Agriculture Committee, using his seniority to bump Pat Roberts of Kansas from the post. Roberts initially said he was ready to force a vote challenging Cochran before backing down. Cochran was expected to seek to overturn Roberts’ work on the Senate’s 2012 farm bill, which focused on insurance options to replace the traditional system of direct cash payments to growers. Southern rice, peanut, and wheat producers objected strenuously to the change. Cochran faced the added challenge of dealing with House members who sought to cut far more in spending on food stamp and nutrition programs than the Senate. But he told National Journal in February 2013, “I don’t look at it as a divide, but as a difference that can be accommodated.”

Cochran played an important role in shaping the very different 1996, 2002, and 2008 farm bills. In 1996, he supported the Republican initiative to phase out most crop subsidies, although he insisted on maintaining the cotton marketing loan plan that he largely wrote in 1985. In 2002, he supported the strategy of reviving annual crop payments and of vastly increasing the Conservation Reserve Program. In 2005, Cochran defeated on the Senate floor Iowa Republican Charles Grassley’s move to cap subsidies to individual farmers at $250,000. In 2006, he opposed President George W. Bush’s proposed 5% cut in farm subsidies. And in 2008, he supported the farm bill that passed over Bush’s veto. The president said the bill was too costly and did not go far enough to curb subsidies.

Cochran was chairman of Appropriations from 2005 to 2007 when Republicans controlled the Senate. He has also been the ranking Republican since July 2008 on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, where he has been a key proponent of missile defense, and has worked to fund projects big and small for Mississippi. Timely amendments to appropriations bills that make major policy are a Cochran specialty.

When he first became chairman, Cochran promised to get appropriations bills passed on time, rather than rolling multiple bills into large “omnibus” measures, which had become practice as Congress grew more partisan and unable to agree on individual spending bills. Cochran also said, “We’re not going to have runaway spending on the Appropriations Committee when I’m chairman.” In spite of those assurances, earmarks and runaway discretionary spending were to remain major issues during his stewardship.

Hurricane Katrina struck on August 29, 2005, causing massive damage in Mississippi, and suddenly keeping tight controls on spending was not the chairman’s prime concern. Cochran viewed the devastation by helicopter on August 31, and then persuaded the Senate to immediately vote for $10.5 billion in disaster relief. A week later, he persuaded it to vote for $52 billion more. In late October, Bush called for an additional $17 billion. Cochran, working closely with Republican Gov. Haley Barbour and others in the Mississippi and Louisiana delegations, pushed for $35 billion, with community development block grants available for homeowners and business owners with uninsured losses. This was a new policy, and one not included in the administration request. On December 21, Congress passed a $29 billion bill, with $11.5 billion for community development block grants. Mississippi received $5 billion of the CDBG funds. In the meantime, work on the regular appropriations bills bogged down, and Cochran and House Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., resigned themselves to a continuing resolution for nine appropriations bills they couldn’t get passed.

The following year, 2006, brought more vagaries in the appropriations process in the form of the Bush administration’s request for large amounts of additional money for the war in Iraq. The president asked for a supplemental Iraq funding bill, a proposal sweetened with nearly $20 billion in additional funds for hurricane recovery. Cochran drafted a bill that included some controversial provisions: $700 million for building a CSX rail line inland, to replace the line on the Gulf Coast; $500 million for Northrop Grumman, which was in litigation with the insurers of its Pascagoula shipyard; and $1 billion for Katrina housing. Speaker Dennis Hastert and House Majority Leader John Boehner called his bill a “special-interest shopping cart,” and conservative Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma tried to kill it. But Cochran prevailed on the Senate floor, 50-47. Ultimately, Congress agreed to supplemental spending for Iraq and to $20 billion for Katrina recovery, although it rejected the railroad line.

As Cochran resumed trying to pass the regular appropriations bills on time, earmarked spending came increasingly under fire as more conservatives took issue with Congress’s long-standing practice of approving special projects for individual lawmakers, projects that often were not requested by any government agency. Cochran and Lewis managed to get through both chambers just two of the 12 spending bills in 2006, those for defense and homeland-security appropriations. Budget hawks raised objections to earmarks in the remaining 10 bills, and GOP Majority Leader Bill Frist declined to bring them to the floor before the November election. When Democrats won majorities in both houses, Congress passed a temporary measure to keep the government running, and work ceased on the remaining spending bills. Cochran lost his chairmanship.

In recent years, Cochran has become more inclined to abandon his party on floor votes. He was one of just 11 Republicans to support a $17 billion Democratic jobs bill in 2010, and he joined Democrats that year in backing the New START arms reduction treaty with Russia. He teamed with Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin in 2012 on an amendment to the surface transportation bill that bypassed state transportation agencies and sent money for programs such as bicycle and walking paths directly to local agencies. He worked with Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu in January 2013 to expedite the disaster recovery process in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, and he was the first GOP senator to back President Barack Obama’s choice of former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel for secretary of Defense.

Cochran regularly incensed watchdog groups with his additions to spending bills for Mississippi projects. He had the highest total of earmarks in fiscal years 2008, 2009, and 2010, with more than $497 million in fiscal 2010 alone, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense. He takes a particular interest in his state universities’ research needs and casts a wide net—in the fiscal 2009 omnibus spending bill, he earmarked $3.5 million to the University of Mississippi’s National Center for Natural Products Research, at the time the country’s legal producer of marijuana for medical research. As younger, more conservative Republicans sought to put a stop to earmarking, Cochran continued to wholeheartedly defend the practice. However, when Republicans announced an earmark moratorium for the 112th Congress (2011-12), which continued into the 113th (2013-14), he reluctantly went along. Despite the moratorium, he was still able to secure funding for many of his priorities, including his state’s NASA Stennis Space Center and the Coast Guard.

Cochran often has partnered with his Mississippi Senate colleague Roger Wicker, a Republican. The two teamed up to try to compel Congress to allow federal flood insurance policyholders to add wind coverage to protect themselves financially against future hurricanes. They also successfully pressed the Federal Emergency Management Agency in 2011 to end its policy of disregarding some levees and flood-control structures in updating flood-insurance rate maps. FEMA had left out those structures because it said it could not guarantee all of them would successfully prevent flooding, but homeowners complained that the practice had driven up their premiums.

Wicker’s arrival in the Senate in 2007 was a welcome change for Cochran, who had competed for years with Wicker’s predecessor, Republican Trent Lott, to advance in the leadership and usually wound up losing to him. In 1990, Cochran was elected to the chairmanship of the Senate Republican Conference, the No. 3 position. Although he had less seniority than Cochran, Lott set his sights higher. Rather than wait his turn to move up, Lott challenged Wyoming’s Alan Simpson for majority whip, the No. 2 position. Cochran pointedly endorsed Simpson, but Lott won anyway, with the support of junior Senate conservatives, and leapfrogged over Cochran to the higher-ranking post of whip. Then in 1996, the top job of Senate majority leader came open when Kansas Republican Bob Dole ran for president. Cochran and Lott both entered the race. Lott was able to sew up a majority of votes quickly. Cochran stayed in the contest and lost 44-8.

When Cochran ran for reelection in 2008, his challenger was a former state representative with little money and no paid staff. Cochran spent $2.8 million and won 61%-39%, his closest margin since 1984. Questions resurfaced about whether he would run again in 2014, but Cochran ended months of speculation by finally announcing in December 2013 that he would do so.

The ensuing primary -- easily one of the bitterest of recent years -- launched Cochran into the national spotlight. He drew a challenge from state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who with the support of tea party groups mounted a full-throttle assault on Cochran as insufficiently conservative for the deeply red state. McDaniel succeeded in holding Cochran below the 50-percent mark in a June 3 primary, forcing a subsequent runoff election in which the challenger was widely regarded as the favorite. The race's ugliest moment came when a McDaniel supporter took photos of Cochran's bedridden wife Rose -- who died that December -- and posted them online without her permission. McDaniel denied any connection with the incident, in which four men were arrested. One of the men committed suicide, while another pleaded guilty to conspiracy.

But Cochran -- with the help of adviser Stuart Stevens, who had overseen Mitt Romney's unsuccessful 2012 presidential bid -- staged a remarkable political comeback. He re-introduced himself to voters in advertisements, running one spot that listed 20 institutions or companies that he had helped through procuring funds. Cochran's colleagues, led by McConnell, leapt into action by writing checks and providing other assistance.

At the same time, the Cochran campaign took a calculated risk by seeking to reach out to Democrats, who were eligible to vote in the runoff. In particular, they targeted the state's sizeable African-American population. The unusual strategy paid off: Cochran eked out a victory in the runoff, 51%-49%, with evidence that his strong showing in majority-black precincts provided the difference. A furious McDaniel vowed to mount a legal challenge, telling one radio host: "They hired Democratic operatives to go out into Democratic communities and call me a racist." In August, he filed a formal challenge alleging thousands of voting irregularities; a judge dismissed it. Undeterred, he appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court, which dismissed it just before the November election. Not that Cochran was in any trouble: He beat former Democratic Rep. Travis Childers by 23 percentage points.

Though Cochran has steered clear of scandal, in 2009 one of his former longtime aides pleaded guilty to swapping legislative favors for event tickets and other gifts from disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s firm. During the presidential contest in 2008, his unflattering remarks about Arizona Sen. John McCain were widely quoted in the media. Cochran told The Boston Globe, “The thought of his being president sends a cold chill down my spine. He’s erratic. He’s hotheaded. He loses his temper, and he worries me.” When McCain ultimately became the party’s nominee that year, Cochran called his earlier appraisal of McCain “ill advised.” Indeed, McCain was one of the senators came to Cochran's aid in 2014.

Office Contact Information

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 224-5054

(202) 224-9450

DSOB- Dirksen Senate Office Building Room 113
Washington, DC 20510-2402

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 224-5054

(202) 224-9450

DSOB- Dirksen Senate Office Building Room 113
Washington, DC 20510-2402

DISTRICT OFFICE

(601) 965-4459

(601) 965-4919

190 East Capitol Street Suite 550
Jackson, MS 39201-2137

DISTRICT OFFICE

(601) 965-4459

(601) 965-4919

190 East Capitol Street Suite 550
Jackson, MS 39201-2137

DISTRICT OFFICE

(228) 867-9710

(228) 867-9789

2012 15th Street Suite 451
Gulfport, MS 39501

DISTRICT OFFICE

(228) 867-9710

(228) 867-9789

2012 15th Street Suite 451
Gulfport, MS 39501

DISTRICT OFFICE

(662) 236-1018

(662) 236-7618

Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse Suite 249
Oxford, MS 38655-3652

DISTRICT OFFICE

(662) 236-1018

(662) 236-7618

Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse Suite 249
Oxford, MS 38655-3652

Staff

Sort by: Interest Name Title

Aerospace

Ty Mabry
Senior Policy Advisor; Legislative Aide

Mary Martha Henson
Legislative Assistant

Agriculture

Daniel Ulmer
Legislative Assistant

Bennett Mize
Legislative Aide

Appropriations

Daniel Ulmer
Legislative Assistant

Tim Wolverton
Legislative Assistant

Bennett Mize
Legislative Aide

Adam Telle
Deputy Chief of Staff; Legislative Director

Mary Martha Henson
Legislative Assistant

Arts

Mary Martha Henson
Legislative Assistant

Banking

Daniel Ulmer
Legislative Assistant

Bennett Mize
Legislative Aide

Budget

Daniel Ulmer
Legislative Assistant

Tim Wolverton
Legislative Assistant

Bennett Mize
Legislative Aide

Adam Telle
Deputy Chief of Staff; Legislative Director

Commerce

Daniel Ulmer
Legislative Assistant

James Moody
Legislative Aide

Crime

Lindsay Linhares
Legislative Aide

Disaster

Lindsay Linhares
Legislative Aide

Education

Constance Payne
Legislative Assistant

Devon Brenner
Education Fellow

Elizabeth Henry
Legislative Aide

Energy

James Moody
Legislative Aide

Mary Martha Henson
Legislative Assistant

Environment

Daniel Ulmer
Legislative Assistant

James Moody
Legislative Aide

Mary Martha Henson
Legislative Assistant

Family

Constance Payne
Legislative Assistant

Finance

Daniel Ulmer
Legislative Assistant

Bennett Mize
Legislative Aide

Foreign

Anne Brashier
Legislative Correspondent

Govt Ops

Tim Wolverton
Legislative Assistant

Gun Issues

Tim Wolverton
Legislative Assistant

Lindsay Linhares
Legislative Aide

Health

Constance Payne
Legislative Assistant

Elizabeth Henry
Legislative Aide

Homeland Security

Ty Mabry
Senior Policy Advisor; Legislative Aide

Tim Wolverton
Legislative Assistant

Lindsay Linhares
Legislative Aide

John Ariail
Coast Guard Fellow

Housing

Tim Wolverton
Legislative Assistant

Human Rights

Lindsay Linhares
Legislative Aide

Immigration

Tim Wolverton
Legislative Assistant

Intelligence

Ty Mabry
Senior Policy Advisor; Legislative Aide

Internet

Mary Martha Henson
Legislative Assistant

Judiciary

Tim Wolverton
Legislative Assistant

Lindsay Linhares
Legislative Aide

Labor

Constance Payne
Legislative Assistant

Elizabeth Henry
Legislative Aide

Land Use

Daniel Ulmer
Legislative Assistant

Mary Martha Henson
Legislative Assistant

Medicare

Constance Payne
Legislative Assistant

Military

Jason Bast
Military Fellow

Ty Mabry
Senior Policy Advisor; Legislative Aide

Anne Brashier
Legislative Correspondent

Adam Telle
Deputy Chief of Staff; Legislative Director

Native Americans

James Moody
Legislative Aide

Mary Martha Henson
Legislative Assistant

Public Works

Mary Martha Henson
Legislative Assistant

Rules

Adam Telle
Deputy Chief of Staff; Legislative Director

Science

James Moody
Legislative Aide

Mary Martha Henson
Legislative Assistant

Social Security

Constance Payne
Legislative Assistant

Tax

Daniel Ulmer
Legislative Assistant

Bennett Mize
Legislative Aide

Technology

James Moody
Legislative Aide

Telecommunications

Mary Martha Henson
Legislative Assistant

Trade

Ty Mabry
Senior Policy Advisor; Legislative Aide

Bennett Mize
Legislative Aide

Transportation

James Moody
Legislative Aide

Mary Martha Henson
Legislative Assistant

Veterans

Jason Bast
Military Fellow

Constance Payne
Legislative Assistant

Elizabeth Henry
Legislative Aide

Welfare

Constance Payne
Legislative Assistant

Women

Constance Payne
Legislative Assistant

Election Results

2008 GENERAL
Thad Cochran
Votes: 766,111
Percent: 61.44%
Erik Fleming
Votes: 480,915
Percent: 38.56%
2008 PRIMARY
Thad Cochran
Unopposed
Prior Winning Percentages
2002 (85%), 1996 (71%), 1990 (100%), 1984 (61%), 1978 (45%), House: 1976 (76%), 1974 (70%), 1972 (48%)

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