Although I see Mississippi’s 1st District U.S. House race between incumbent Rep. Travis Childers, D-Booneville, and Republican challenger state Sen. Alan Nunnelee much as the national prognosticators do – an extremely tight race that’s genuinely too close to call – there are some undeniable realities confronting Childers.
First and foremost, Childers’ re-election bid is a politically lonely enterprise. If he is to win, Childers must de-nationalize the race to the greatest extent possible and must avoid the political nexus between him and the national leadership of his party and the people he caucuses with in Congress.
Nobody will ride in from the national Democratic Party as the political cavalry to “save” Childers in October. A Childers rally in which President Barack Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi or Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean joins Childers on a north Mississippi podium, embraces him and says they need his continued support won’t happen.
In a district that has voted Republican in presidential politics for decades, Childers must trumpet his “Blue Dog conservative Democrat” status at every turn – replete with his legitimate National Rifle Association, pro-life and other right-of-center special interest group endorsements to avoid the liberal label that Nunnelee is working so hard to put on him.
But the harder Childers works to distance himself from Obama, Pelosi and his national party’s policies, the less Childers engages the surge of more liberal Democrats who swelled the ranks of participating voters in 2008 for Obama that served to benefit Childers.
That said, Childers remains the incumbent in this race and incumbents are normally virtually impossible to beat in Mississippi. In addition to that status, Childers has a support network across the district from county officials he came to know during his Prentiss County chancery clerk years.
Nunnelee, on the other hand, has a bevy of national and state Republican endorsements from party leaders lining up to come and campaign for him. Nunnelee’s got the GOP political cavalry on speed dial.
But Nunnelee faces the challenge of having seven minor party and independent candidates on the ballot with him – most of whom skew even more conservative than either he or Childers. Several of those candidates have Tea Party or “patriot group” connections that are almost certain to siphon what would have been GOP votes away from him.
For Childers, the threat from those seven lesser-known and lesser-funded challengers is that the only thing voters drawn to Tea Party or patriot group affiliations like less than increasing government spending is incumbents in general.
The Childers-Nunnelee race comes down to which candidate mounts the most effective get-out-the-vote ground game in vote-rich DeSoto, Lafayette, Lee, Lowndes, Marshall and Monroe counties – where there’s nothing else of interest on the ballot to spur turnout.
Sid Salter is Perspective editor at The Clarion-Ledger and a syndicated columnist. Contact him at (601) 961-7084 or firstname.lastname@example.org.