Mississippi Burning for Republicans

Posted April 23, 2008 at 6:05pm

Prentiss County Chancery Clerk Travis Childers (D) and Southaven Mayor Greg Davis (R) will meet in a May 13 runoff in the open special election to fill the northern Mississippi House seat of now-Sen. Roger Wicker (R).

According to unofficial results, neither man won the simple majority of votes necessary to secure victory in Tuesday’s six-way primary contest, although between them, they accounted for 95 percent of the total vote.

But in perhaps the most surprising turn of events in what had been considered a safe Republican district under Wicker, Childers got 49 percent of the vote to Davis’ 46 percent and came just 410 votes shy of locking up the special election outright on Tuesday night.

The special runoff will now be a preview of the November general election, after Childers and Davis secured their party’s nominations in their respective primary runoffs earlier this month. No party identifications appeared on the special election ballot nor will they appear on the runoff ballot — a distinct advantage for Childers that he will not enjoy in November.

Childers won 16 of the district’s 24 counties Tuesday night, racking up his biggest vote numbers in the western counties around Tupelo, which had been Wicker’s base during his time in the House. In Lee County, the highly Republican County where Tupelo is located, Childers took 58 percent of the vote, which accounted for 4,899 of his 33,138 votes.

But Davis, who beat former Tupelo Mayor Glenn McCullough in the Republican primary race earlier this month, was able to keep Childers from getting above the 50 percent mark by once again running up huge numbers in his home county of DeSoto, which is the district’s most populous Republican stronghold. In a series of low-turnout elections, Davis has been able to fight his way through a three-way Republican primary and the primary runoff by consistently churning out the DeSoto vote. He did so again Tuesday with 10,148 of his 31,066 votes coming from the county.

But while Davis ran 3 points behind Childers, Republicans say that time works in their favor because it will allow them more time to turn the race from a regional battle between two conservative candidates into an ideological battle between Democrat and Republican.

Both the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee invested tens of thousands of dollars in Tuesday’s special primary, and it’s a good bet that both will continue to spend through May 13.

“Republicans will nationalize this race,” one Mississippi Republican said on Wednesday. When 1st district voters head to the polls again, “we want them to be voting for McCain vs. Clinton or Obama,” rather than simply Davis vs. Childers.

“This is not an east versus west or north versus south battle,” Davis spokesman Ted Prill said. “It’s a battle of ideologies and parties, and that’s becoming more and more obvious.”

Republicans say Childers made it to Tuesday’s special election as the more undefined candidate because he had a less-bruising primary runoff than Davis did.

“We’ve got three more weeks to define him and that only works in our favor,” Prill said.

Childers spokesman Terry Cassreino said those Republican tactics won’t work in this campaign.

“I don’t think you can define Travis Childers as a liberal Democrat, and that’s evident by the fact that the Blue Dog Coalition has endorsed him. … We keep talking about what voters want to hear and what is important to voters of northern Mississippi: creating jobs, economic development, health care, education. Mr. Childers is talking about real issues, and people want to hear about that,” Cassreino said.