WASHINGTON — Mississippi’s 2018 U.S. Senate race is poised as the next possible front in the fight between rival wings of the Republican Party, a campaign that could test how the party’s populist and establishment forces engage in the aftermath of this month’s bitter Alabama contest.

If state Sen. Chris McDaniel, the hard-right’s top recruit for the seat, decides to challenge U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, he will be up against the incumbent’s well-funded allies and President Trump, who has pledged Wicker his support.

Those dynamics could trigger a broad intraparty clash such as the one that played out in Alabama, where the Republicans lost a Senate seat for the first time in a quarter-century.

But Mississippi’s insurgent faction faces brisk head winds in its bid to topple another incumbent.

McDaniel has held back from launching a high-profile challenge to Wicker as he has explored lower-risk options, including possibly succeeding Sen. Thad Cochran, who narrowly defeated him in 2014. Cochran, 80, has been battling health problems this year, and has appeared to be in delicate condition at times in the Capitol, sparking speculation about how much longer he intends to stay in office. However, Republican Gov. Phil Bryant has indicated that he is not interested in naming McDaniel if the seat opens up, according to people familiar with his views.

In an interview last week, McDaniel, 45, said he will announce in January whether he will challenge Wicker. By this point in the 2014 cycle, he had launched a campaign against Cochran.

“It certainly is on my mind. I think the race will be very compelling. Nevertheless, I still have to make a final decision,” said McDaniel, who added that he is also contemplating a possible 2019 run for lieutenant governor.

A Wicker-McDaniel battle before the June Republican primary could reprise many of the internecine attacks that played out in Alabama, where conservative former judge Roy Moore defeated Sen. Luther Strange, only to lose the general election to Democrat Doug Jones. And it would force national Republicans to contend with yet another fraught party fight as the 2018 congressional election season ramps up.

Trump would have to determine how vocal and visible a role he would be willing to play for Wicker after his political brand took a hit in Alabama, where he backed both losing candidates. Some White House aides are hoping the president will stay out of Mississippi if it becomes a messy primary.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has encouraged Trump to back Wicker, and in an October call the president privately assured Wicker of his support, according to two White House officials and a Republican close to the senator, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. On the call, Trump noted that he is popular in Mississippi and could be of help in the state. The president did not seem very familiar with McDaniel, these people said.

A White House spokesman declined to comment on Trump’s view of the race.

Meanwhile, Wicker’s allies at the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Senate Leadership Fund, a well-heeled group helmed by allies of McConnell, would also have to determine how to most effectively navigate the race. The Alabama contest exposed the dangers of appearing too cozy with their preferred candidates, as detractors branded Strange as a tool of the party establishment.

And Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist who has encouraged McDaniel to run, would have to judge how big a role he should play in the race after his candidate lost in Alabama. His critics are warning him to stay away.

“Is Bannon going to huff and puff and blow up another Senate race? Or is he going to leave it alone?” said Scott Reed, the senior political strategist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Bannon did not respond to a request for comment.

If McDaniel does not run, there is no obvious alternative with the name recognition and resources to wage a competitive campaign against Wicker. The filing deadline is March 1 and the primary is June 5.

McDaniel has said he favors replacing McConnell as majority leader and has sought to cast Wicker as insufficiently conservative, following the play book that other insurgent challengers have used in recent years.