ELLISVILLE, Miss. (AP) - A tea party-backed state lawmaker who came close to unseating one of Mississippi's U.S. senators during a bitter 2014 race announced Wednesday that he will challenge the state's other U.S. senator, Roger Wicker.
Conservative Republican Chris McDaniel had hinted at the decision for days and made the announcement at an afternoon rally in his hometown of Ellisville. He said he looked forward to going up against Wicker in the GOP primary on June 5, accusing the senator of being beholden to Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other national Republican leaders who don't have Mississippi's interests foremost in their minds.
"They think they're so sophisticated, they can't even balance a budget," McDaniel told about 200 supporters gathered at a junior college auditorium.
McDaniel said Wicker has a liberal voting record in Washington and is now pretending to be a conservative as he seeks re-election.
The Wicker campaign did not immediately respond to McDaniel's announcement, though it said earlier that a statement would be issued during the day.
Wicker has been in the Senate a decade, and President Donald Trump tweeted his support of Wicker on Tuesday.
As for Trump's backing of Wicker, McDaniel appeared to be already hitting hard at his opponent: "Thank God for President Trump. He's made Roger Wicker a conservative for about three weeks."
McDaniel was backed by tea party groups when he came close to unseating Mississippi's senior senator, Thad Cochran, in 2014. At the time, McDaniel positioned himself as the outsider trying to topple the political establishment. The same dynamic would be in play in any race against Wicker.
But McDaniel, a state who calls himself a "constitutional conservative," faces a much different environment in 2018, and a more engaged candidate in Wicker.
Wicker, wary of McDaniel from his challenge of Cochran, has taken an aggressive stance early on. Cochran was accustomed to winning with little effort and took months to engage in the primary.
Wicker preemptively announced in January that 65 top Trump supporters in Mississippi, including county organizing chairmen and chairwomen, had thrown their support to Wicker, all while McDaniel has maintained a steady drumbeat of criticism of the president and his accomplishments.
The Senate race in Mississippi four years ago grabbed national attention after a McDaniel supporter entered a nursing home without permission and photographed Cochran's wife, who was bedridden with dementia. Images of her appeared briefly online. McDaniel said he had no connection to the incident.
McDaniel never conceded his loss to Cochran and filed an unsuccessful challenge saying the Cochran camp had cheated in the primary runoff by courting votes from black people who traditionally support Democrats.
By EMILY WAGSTER