UPDATE: Tax arguments heat up northern Miss. US House race

JACKSON — Democratic U.S. Rep. Travis Childers split with his party leadership Wednesday, saying he favors at least a one-year extension for all the 2001 federal income tax cuts that are set to expire at the end of this year.

“The best way to improve our economy is to put money back into the pockets of hardworking Americans. That’s why I’ve consistently supported tax relief provisions for families and businesses,” Childers said in a news release.

“In the longer term, we need to get serious about reducing the deficit, and — after we allow our economy to continue recovering over a significant period of time — gradually phasing out breaks for millionaires, billionaires, and large corporations is one of the best ways to do this.”

Some top Democrats, including President Barack Obama, have said they favor extending most of the tax cuts, but not those for the wealthiest.

Childers’ statement came shortly after his Republican challenger in the Nov. 2 election, Alan Nunnelee, intensified criticism of a new Childers campaign ad. The 30-second TV commercial cites three sources to back up Childers’ claim that Nunnelee supports increasing taxes.

One of the sources is an anonymous reader’s comment posted to The Commercial Dispatch website in June, after an article about Childers appearing in Columbus.

“I think this is a new low in Mississippi politics that a campaign would run an ad based on anonymous blog posts,” Nunnelee told The Associated Press.

Childers campaign spokeswoman Dana Edelstein on Wednesday defended the ad’s citation of the anonymous comment by saying the Columbus newspaper itself is “a reputable news source.”

As far back as November, Nunnelee has listed “FairTax.org” among his interests on Facebook. Edelstein said that means Nunnelee supports the group and its goals.

“They’re running a really highly watched, highly contested congressional race,” Edelstein said. “You don’t put stuff on your Facebook page unless you mean it.”

The FairTax.org website advocates replacing all federal income and payroll taxes with a national retail sales tax.

Nunnelee’s Facebook page on Wednesday listed FairTax.org among the three dozen people, groups or causes under the heading “Likes and Interests.” Many of the others are for Republican or Christian groups or for Mississippi cities, schools or publications.

Nunnelee said that just because he “likes” FairTax.org on Facebook doesn’t mean he agrees with it.

“I think that somebody that makes that link is grasping at straws,” Nunnelee said. “I think that the Childers campaign wants to do everything they can to make up things about my record because they don’t want to talk about their record.”

Childers was working in Washington on Wednesday and not immediately available for comment. His ad begins with him saying, “I’m Travis Childers and I approve this message.”

Childers’ ad says the “fair tax” would translate into “higher taxes on everything like medicine, cars, gas, groceries and guns.”

Nunnelee would not answer repeated questions during the AP interview about whether he specifically supports the fair tax proposal.

“I will support taxes that are lower, that are simpler and more transparent,” Nunnelee said.

As chairman of the state Senate Appropriations Committee, Nunnelee supported Republican Gov. Haley Barbour’s proposal last year to increase hospital taxes to help pay for Medicaid. The higher tax was enacted into law.

Nunnelee was already on record supporting extending the 2001 federal income tax cuts, and he said Wednesday that Childers should’ve taken a stand earlier.

The general election ballot in the 1st District will include Childers of Booneville; Nunnelee of Tupelo; independents A.G. Baddley of Hernando, Les Green of Hernando, Rick “Rico” Hoskins of Batesville and Wally Pang of Batesville; the Constitution Party’s Gail Giaramita of Lake Cormorant; Libertarian Harold M. Taylor of Hernando; and the Reform Party’s Barbara Dale Washer of Hattiesburg.

Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press