LLOYD GRAY: An intriguing political season

Lloyd Gray MugWhat an interesting political year 2014 is shaping up to be.

No big story in the 1st Congressional District, where Alan Nunnelee gets a free pass in the primary and no major opposition in the general election. But even that development is interesting in itself, considering that Nunnelee hasn’t been a tea party favorite and has had to fend off Republican primary challengers in the last two elections who tried to position themselves to his right.

The latest twist to the 2014 campaign season was a long-anticipated announcement from the man Nunnelee ousted from Congress in 2010, Democrat Travis Childers. The former Prentiss County chancery clerk on Friday officially jumped into the U.S. Senate race.

It was already a closely watched battle that’s a microcosm of Republican divisions nationally with the tea party-blessed challenge of longtime Sen. Thad Cochran by state Sen. Chris McDaniel. Democrats likely would not have mounted a serious campaign if only Cochran were running, but the idea of McDaniel upsetting the incumbent and having a clear path to the Senate got Childers and other Dems pondering the possibilities.

It’s still a longshot these days for a Democrat to win a statewide race. Only twice has that happened in the last 10 years – both by Attorney General Jim Hood.

Childers’ win in the 2008 special 1st District congressional election to replace Roger Wicker after Wicker’s appointment to the Senate was a surprise in a solid Republican district. Though there were extenuating circumstances – including a weak Republican nominee – Childers as a small-town populist demonstrated the ability to draw votes that Democrats in Mississippi hadn’t gotten for a while, especially in congressional elections.

But in spite of Childers’ Blue Dog conservative Democrat bonafides, his association with the Democratic congressional leadership turned out to be too big a burden to bear in the 2010 Republican surge.

So what are his chances in a statewide race? Against McDaniel, not insurmountable. Against Cochran, pretty slim.

So that raises the question: Will Childers mount a full-blown, no-holds-barred campaign if Cochran is the nominee? Some speculate he won’t, though he’s given no such indication.

It also suggests the possibility that some hard-core Democrats might vote in the Republican primary for McDaniel in hopes that the candidate they perceive as more vulnerable to Childers wins. But somebody will have to vote in the Democratic primary, where Childers will face Bill Marcy of Vicksburg, who’s run the last two times for Congress in the 2nd District as a Republican.

And then there’s the question of the potential impact of a Democratic primary on Cochran’s chances, since without a primary or a serious Democratic challenger some Dems may have voted in the GOP primary for Cochran out of fear of McDaniel’s cut-federal-spending-to-the-bone impact on Mississippi or out of general respect for Cochran.

It’s all enough to make a politico’s head spin and political conspiracy theorists unleash their imaginations. But the bottom line is that Childers must have looked at some polls and campaign financing prospects that at least convinced him he might have a chance.

Meanwhile, way down south in the coastal 4th District they have a donnybrook coming. Gene Taylor, who was a lone-wolf Democrat during his two-plus decades in Congress before Steven Palazzo upset him in 2010, is trying to regain the seat as a Republican, the party he almost always voted with anyway.

What could have been a ho-hum political year now looks intriguing on several fronts, with different philosophies and styles on display. If we can avoid distortions, half-truths and personal attacks in this campaign season – especially those pedaled by super PAC advertising – these races could be important political and philosophical debates. Unfortunately, that’s a big “if.”

Lloyd Gray is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or lloyd.gray@journalinc.com.