Longtime Republican Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi said Monday he'll resign because of health problems—triggering what could be a chaotic special election to fill the seat he has held for a generation. Cochran, who turned 80 in December and has been in poor health, has been a sporadic presence on Capitol Hill in recent months, the AP reports. He stayed home for a month last fall, returning to Washington in October to give Republicans the majority they needed to pass a budget plan. He has since kept a low profile and an aide ever present at his side. "I regret my health has become an ongoing challenge," Cochran said in a statement. "It has been a great honor to serve the people of Mississippi and our country."
Cochran, who was first elected to the Senate in 1978, said his resignation is effective April 1, allowing Republican Gov. Phil Bryant to appoint a temporary replacement to fill the seat until a special election Nov. 6. The winner would serve until the end of Cochran's term in January 2021. The special election is expected to attract several candidates, including Chris McDaniel, the outspoken, Tea Party-backed state senator who came close to defeating Cochran in a bitter 2014 Republican primary. Mike Espy, a Democrat who served as Bill Clinton's secretary of agriculture, said Monday he has a "strong intention" to run for Cochran's seat. (Cochran appeared "frail and disoriented" when he returned to the Senate last fall.)