Analysis: GOP targets Miss. Dems Childers, Taylor

Democratic congressmen Travis Childers and Gene Taylor of Mississippi don’t walk, talk or look a thing like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California. They certainly don’t agree with her on every issue, and they don’t always vote the way she wants.

Still, between now and November, Republicans will do all they can to convince Mississippi voters that Childers and Taylor are ready to do the bidding of a San Francisco lefty.

Longtime state Sen. Alan Nunnelee of Tupelo won the Republican primary in north Mississippi’s 1st District last week and will challenge Childers in the Nov. 2 general election. Childers, from Booneville, first won the seat in a mid-2008 special election.

Freshman state Rep. Steven Palazzo of Biloxi won last week’s GOP primary in the southern 4th District and will challenge Taylor of Bay St. Louis, who has represented the district since 1989.

Both Nunnelee and Palazzo regularly criticize Pelosi and Democratic President Barack Obama.

“This is not an election about one man,” Nunnelee said primary night. “This is about taking our country back, taking it back from the liberal left wing that controls the United States Congress.”

Palazzo is a Marine veteran who served in combat in the Persian Gulf War. He said he’s ready to challenge the status quo if he goes to Washington.

“I think the part of being in the Marine Corps has given me the courage to take on people like Pelosi and Obama,” Palazzo said primary night.

Childers and Taylor are both Blue Dog Democrats — fiscal and social conservatives who often disagree with their party’s leadership on gun rights, abortion and other issues.

Both represent districts that went Republican in the 2008 presidential election, and before.

The National Republican Congressional Committee is backing both Nunnelee and Palazzo, but appears to be focusing more intently on the 1st District seat. For months, the NRCC has included Childers on its list of potentially vulnerable Democrats.

Democrat Jamie Whitten represented northern Mississippi in the U.S. House for 53 years and chose not to run in 1994. As longtime chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee, Whitten steered big bucks to his district for rural electricity and other substantial projects. Folks there still appreciate that.

Roger Wicker was elected to the 1st District seat at part of the Republican sweep in 1994. In late 2007, Republican Gov. Haley Barbour promoted Wicker to the U.S. Senate when the GOP’s Trent Lott resigned. Childers won a special election in mid-2008. That November, he defeated the same candidate again, Republican Mayor Greg Davis of Southaven.

Childers voted with Pelosi on federal stimulus spending but voted against her on a federal health care overhaul.

Mississippi Democratic Party executive director Sam Hall said in a news release that Nunnelee is a “career politician” who’s out of touch with the middle class.

“Travis Childers has been independent minded and stood up for working families while Alan Nunnelee has only stood up for himself and his own career,” Hall said.

Childers and Nunnelee will be on the November ballot with seven other candidates. The 4th District ballot will have Taylor, Palazzo, a Libertarian and a Reform Party candidate.

One particular challenge for Palazzo might be his name. It’s not an unusual name for the diverse coastal district — but spoken quickly enough, it does sound a bit like Pelosi.

Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press