National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Jerry Moran (Kan.) said Thursday it's a "much clearer race" for Republicans if Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) wins his primary runoff election against state Sen. Chris McDaniel, but Moran said the committee would ultimately back McDaniel if he wins.
"For the general fall election, there is just no question that [Cochran] would be reelected," Moran told The Hill on Thursday.
He confirmed, when asked, the NRSC would support McDaniel if he's the nominee. That marks a shift from just a few weeks ago, when he was reluctant to say whether the NRSC would back McDaniel.
Republicans have expressed concern that if he makes it through to the general election, he'll leave Democrats an opening to pick up the seat this fall.
Throughout the primary, McDaniel was dogged by negative press on issues ranging from his racially tinged comments as a talk-radio host to his waffling on support for Hurricane Katrina aid.
And he's struggled to respond to two scandals that derailed his campaign message: First, the arrest of a supporter accused of sneaking into the nursing home of Cochran's wife to photograph her, and now an investigation into a staffer and two supporters who were locked in a courthouse with primary ballots for hours on Tuesday night with unclear motives.
His gaffe-prone and blundering campaign have Republicans worried — and Democrats gleeful — at the prospect of McDaniel as the party's nominee in the general election.
In the case of such a scenario, Democrats are optimistic their nominee, former centrist Rep. Travis Childers, can take advantage.
And there's a very real chance of that outcome. Cochran faces a much tougher battle in the runoff, and at least one major establishment group, American Crossroads, has decided to sit the fight out.
For now, the NRSC and the Chamber of Commerce have rallied around Cochran for what's expected to be a nasty and expensive three-week campaign.
Moran said the committee is still discussing how it will aid Cochran, but that the group wants "to make certain" he wins the nomination.
"The primary purpose of the NRSC is to support Republican incumbents and also to build a majority. We want to make certain that Sen. Cochran wins the runoff, and in addition to that we want to make sure that seat is held by a Republican in November," Moran said.
—This piece was updated at 3:20.