GOP's Cochran wins 7th Senate term by wide margin similar to his previous re-election bids

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JACKSON, Mississippi — After winning a chaotic Republican primary earlier this year, Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran cruised to a seventh term with 60 percent of the vote in Tuesday's general election.

That's similar to the wide margins Cochran enjoyed in most of his previous campaigns for re-election.

He carried 58 of 82 counties Tuesday, even winning in Jones County, home of the tea party-supported state senator who tried to unseat him in the primary.

"No matter who you voted for, I want you to know that I am committed to doing my best to represent Mississippi in the U.S. Senate," Cochran said during his victory party in Jackson.

The Democratic nominee, former U.S. Rep. Travis Childers, received 37 percent of the vote, carrying a few northern counties that he represented in the House from 2008 to 2010. Childers also won in several majority-black counties that are traditional strongholds for Democrats, including the state's largest county, Hinds.

A Reform Party candidate, Shawn O'Hara, received 2 percent of the vote and carried no counties.

Cochran, 76, has repeatedly said he intends to serve the entire six years, despite some skeptics' belief that he might step down early and let the Republican governor appoint a temporary successor.

Cochran's former colleague, Republican Trent Lott, resigned from the Senate in December 2007, less than a year into his fourth term and then-Gov. Haley Barbour promoted fellow Republican Roger Wicker from the House to the Senate. Several months later, Wicker won a special election to finish the term Lott had started.

Gov. Phil Bryant said at Cochran's party Tuesday that he had not even considered possible successors in case Cochran retires before the end of the coming term.

"I think Thad Cochran will be there," Bryant said. "He intends to serve his term. I look forward to six years of Thad Cochran."

The governor and other supporters say they're counting on Cochran's seniority as Republicans take control of the Senate for the first time since 2006. Cochran is a former chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee, but he is not guaranteed to regain that post.

Republican Rep. Gregg Harper, who has held central Mississippi's 3rd District congressional seat since 2008, campaigned for Cochran several times this year, even stepping in to speak on the senator's behalf the night of June 3, when Cochran placed second in a three-person party primary and was forced into a runoff with state Sen. Chris McDaniel. Cochran later said he didn't speak on that election night because he had a sore throat.

"He's spent most of his life serving the people of the state," Harper said Tuesday. "You can't go anywhere in this state without finding somebody he's helped, someone who's his friend."

Among those voting for Cochran was John Lynn, 87, a retired business executive who lives in Forest. He said he's leery of Washington.

"I don't like any of the Democrats who are up there today," Lynn said. "Nothing they have done has addressed our problems. Thad is a conservative and he is a leader and he is going to do what is good for the country."

Charles Shelton, 65, who is retired from Unipress auto supplier and works part-time at Wal-Mart in Forest, voted for Childers. Shelton said he likes President Barack Obama's call for a higher minimum wage, which Childers supported.

"He's doing the best he can, but he needs some help up there," Shelton said of the president. "He's trying to do what's right for the entire country."

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Associated Press writers Jeff Amy and Jack Elliott Jr. contributed to this report.

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .

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