Rep. Travis Childers (D)
Elected: May 2008, 1st full term.
Born: March 29, 1958, Booneville .
Education: Northeast MS Jr. Col., A.A., 1978, U. of MS, B.A., 1980.
Family: Married (Tami); 2 children.
Elected office: Prentiss Cnty. chancery clerk, 1991-2008
Professional Career: Owner, Travis Childers Realty & Assoc., Owner, retirement and nursing homes
The new congressman from the 1st District is Travis Childers, a Democrat who won a May 2008 special election to fill the remainder of Republican Roger Wicker’s congressional term. Wicker took an appointment to the Senate to finish retiring Republican Sen. Lott’s unexpired term. Childers won a full term in November 2008.
|Travis Childers (D)||185,959||(54%)||($1,822,307)|
|Greg Davis (R)||149,818||(44%)||($1,437,823)|
|Travis Childers (D)||58,037||(54%)|
|Greg Davis (R)||49,877||(46%)|
|Travis Childers (D)||33,304||(49%)|
|Greg Davis (R)||31,117||(46%)|
|Travis Childers (D)||20,797||(57%)|
|Steve Holland (D)||15,958||(43%)|
|Travis Childers (D)||40,919||(41%)|
|Steve Holland (D)||30,274||(31%)|
|Marshall Coleman (D)||12,913||(13%)|
|Brian Neely (D)||10,624||(11%)|
A Mississippi native, Childers grew up in Prentiss County, where he still lives. His father died when Childers was 16 years old and still in high school. He worked nights and weekends at a local convenience store to help support his mother and sister. Childers earned an associate’s degree at Northeast Mississippi Junior College before receiving a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Mississippi. While still at Ole Miss, he became a licensed real estate agent and joined a firm in his native Booneville. He later opened his own business, Travis Childers Realty & Associates. In 1991, he was elected Prentiss County chancery clerk, and he served in that position for five terms until 2008. He and his wife, Tami, also own a nursing home and skilled-care facility.
When Wicker was appointed to the Senate on December 31, 2007, Childers quickly took steps to run for his House seat. Describing himself as a “Mississippi Democrat” on social issues, Childers closely aligned with Republicans in opposition to gun control, abortion rights, and gay marriage. He highlighted his opposition to the Iraq war. Hoping to strike a chord with disaffected voters amid looming economic turmoil, Childers also highlighted his working class roots and his difficult early years. “True conservatism was going to work full-time when you’re 16,” Childers said on the stump. He won 41% of the vote in the special-election primary and, in a runoff in April, defeated state Rep. Steve Holland with 57% of the vote.
Southaven Mayor Greg Davis eventually won the Republican nod. As the special general election neared, the race drew national attention as a possible bellwether of Democratic strength in the 2008 congressional elections in November. But its value as a political indicator diminished with the presence of several third party candidates and exceptionally low voter turnout. Neither Childers nor Davis topped the 50% needed to avoid a runoff. Childers got 49.4%, which left him about 400 votes short of clinching the win outright. He ran strong in the more rural areas in the district, taking 58% in traditionally Republican Lee County and Tupelo. Davis received 46.3%, winning big in his native DeSoto County, a Memphis suburb and the largest county in the district.
In the runoff campaign, Republicans sought to link Childers to liberal national Democrats. In one ad, Davis said Childers had accepted Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s endorsement even “when Obama’s pastor [the Rev. Jeremiah Wright] cursed America, blaming us for 9/11.” Childers emphasized that Obama had not endorsed him, and his supporters accused Davis of attempting to play on racial prejudices.
The national parties each weighed in heavily. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent more than $1.5 million on the race. It sent out a controversial mailer in the final days of the campaign tying Davis to the Ku Klux Klan because he supported the erection of a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis in Southaven when he was mayor. The National Republican Congressional Committee spent $1.3 million. The conservative group Freedom’s Watch also spent nearly $500,000 to benefit Davis, and Vice President Dick Cheney dropped in to campaign for him in the final hours of the campaign. In the end, Davis’s negative ads backfired. Childers won with 54%, claiming a district that had been in Republican hands since 1995 and had voted for President Bush by 62% in 2004. Democrats heralded the win as a sign of things to come: “There is no district that is safe for Republican candidates,” DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen told The Washington Post.
Once in Congress, Childers sought to burnish his conservative credentials, sponsoring a House amendment to legislation by District of Columbia Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton that sought to clarify D.C. gun rights in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down the District’s ban on guns. His amendment would allow D.C. residents to own both handguns and rifles but continued the ban on sawed-off rifles, machine guns, and short-barreled rifles. Democrat Norton’s bill was more restrictive on gun ownership. But Childers had the support of the powerful National Rifle Association and of other conservative Democrats in gun-friendly districts. His amendment passed by a wide margin in the House, though it later stalled in the Senate. Childers also voted against the $700 billion bailout of large financial firms in October 2008.
In November 2008, Davis sought a rematch, hoping that the presidential election on the same day would bring out many more voters who wanted to cast ballots for Republican nominee John McCain. Still, Republicans worried that Davis the suburban mayor did not have the same appeal as Childers, with his country boy persona. Childers also outpaced Davis in fundraising, $1.8 million to $1.5 million. Building on his May victory, he bested Davis by 11 points, 55% to 44%, even as McCain handily carried the district with 62% of the vote.
Childers is on the Financial Services Committee and the Agriculture Committee. Early in the 111th Congress, he fell more in line with other Democrats, particularly on economic issues. He supported the Democrats’ proposed expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program and voted for President Obama’s economic stimulus bill in February 2009.