Travis Childers will be dependent on his neighbors in Northeast Mississippi to have any chance of accomplishing what would be the nation’s biggest upset of the November general elections.
The Booneville man will face three lesser-known candidates in the June Democratic primary before ultimately facing the winner between veteran incumbent Thad Cochran, state Sen. Chris McDaniel of Ellisville and another lesser-known candidate in the November general election.
Mississippi is solidly Republican. But Attorney General Jim Hood, as Mississippi’s only statewide elected Democrat, proves that Childers’ task is not impossible – just highly unlikely. Hood keeps on winning statewide races by margins as impressive as his statewide Republican colleagues.
Hood has at least two things in common with Childers.
Both are independent thinkers – not always walking the party line. And perhaps even more importantly, both are from Northeast Mississippi. Hood is from Chickasaw County. Only Lee County separates the home counties of Childers in Prentiss and Hood.
If Childers can make the race about geography for Northeast Mississippians, he might have a chance.
That is in essence what he did in 2008 when he was a surprise winner in first a special election and then a regular election to win what had become the Republican-heavy 1st Congressional District.
The problem for Republicans in that race is that they chose then-Southaven Mayor Greg Davis from the Memphis suburbs in northwest Mississippi as their candidate. Northeast Mississippians, who often in recent elections have chosen to vote Republican, picked geography over party in that race.
Two years later Republicans picked a fellow Northeast Mississippian – then state Sen. Alan Nunnelee of Tupelo. Northeast Mississippians no longer had to choose whether to vote geography or party and chose Nunnelee.
Obviously, a statewide race is different. But despite Mississippi’s decidedly Republican bent, Democrats have a built-in base in the state.
An example of that can be found in the 2008 general election when little-known state Rep. Erik Fleming received 39 percent of the vote with literally no money to spend on the race against the highly popular Cochran.
Democrats opted to make a major push that year for the other Senate race where then-Republican U.S. Rep. Roger Wicker and former Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove were vying in a special election to replace Trent Lott who stepped down early. Despite a well-funded campaign and statewide name recognition, Musgrove garnered only 45 percent of the vote – about 6 percent more than the underfunded Fleming.
Wicker is, of course, from Tupelo in Northeast Mississippi.
In the two statewide elections Musgrove won for lieutenant governor and governor, he did well in Northeast Mississippi.
In the two he lost, his gubernatorial re-election bid and the Senate campaign, he lost Northeast Mississippi.
Of course, when Musgrove won those elections, partisan politics was a factor, but to a lesser extent than today.
Still, many believe the best path to victory for a Democrat on a statewide level is to take the traditional Democratic strongholds of the Delta, the Jackson area and a few others and combine that with Northeast Mississippi.
If Childers can do that, he might have a shot. If McDaniel, who is running an aggressive campaign, does the unthinkable and defeats Cochran, Childers would stand more than a puncher’s chance. Against Cochran not so much, but there still might be a path, though a cluttered path filled with potholes.
It should not be forgotten that Cochran was born in Pontotoc, though his family left Northeast Mississippi while he still was a child, and he began his political career in the Jackson area. And, by the way, he now claims Oxford as his home away from Washington.
Bobby Harrison is the Daily Journal’s Capitol Correspondent. Contact him at (601) 353-3119 or email@example.com.