2 Senate seats up in Mississippi as GOP defends its majority

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2 Senate seats up in Mississippi as GOP defends its majority
FILE - In this Jan. 10, 2018, file photo Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., returns to the Capitol for a vote in Washington. Cochran tells The Associated Press he will resign April 1 because of health problems. The 80-year-old has had Cochran stayed home for a month last fall with urinary tract infections, returning to Washington in October to give Republicans the majority they needed to pass a budget plan. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Republicans suddenly find themselves defending two seats in Mississippi as they try to maintain their slim majority in the U.S. Senate.

Sen. Roger Wicker is already up for re-election in the deeply conservative state. And 80-year-old Sen. Thad Cochran announced Monday that he is resigning April 1 because of poor health.

Cochran is just over halfway through a six-year term. Republican Gov. Phil Bryant will appoint someone to temporarily succeed Cochran, and a special election will be in November.

The open seat is expected to attract several candidates. President Bill Clinton’s first agriculture secretary, Democrat Mike Espy, says he has a “strong intention” to run.

Republican state Sen. Chris McDaniel could jump in. He narrowly lost a bitter race to Cochran in 2014.