Former Rep. Travis Childers will be announcing he's running for the Senate seat in Mississippi, according to two sources familiar with his decision, giving Democrats a chance to capitalize on the Republican division within the state.
Childers made his decision official Friday afternoon. "I look forward to formally launching my campaign and traveling to every corner of our great state in the weeks to come. Mississippians know that I have a solid record of being an independent guy who will work across party lines and stand up to the powers that be when needed. In the U.S. Senate, I will continue to put Mississippi's middle class first," he said in a statement.
Childers, a Blue Dog Democrat, held a solidly Republican House seat from 2008 to 2010, proving his ability to win over conservative voters despite his Democratic affiliation. Democrats are hoping that conservative state Sen. Chris McDaniel topples longtime Sen. Thad Cochran in a June primary — a development they believe will make the race highly competitive.
"He's certainly a first-tier candidate. We expect this to be a first-tier race," said one Mississippi-based Democratic operative. "The Republican primary is very uncertain right now, and we believe the tea-party candidate will make a strong showing."
Childers is following a similar path to Sen. Joe Donnelly, who jumped from the House into a 2012 Senate race against Sen. Richard Lugar in Indiana, hoping he would lose to a conservative rival. Lugar lost the primary to Richard Mourdock, whose outspoken conservatism proved out of step, even in a Republican-friendly state.
Cochran is regarded as the most vulnerable Republican senator in a primary, and outside conservative groups are united behind McDaniel. Cochran, a veteran appropriator, hasn't faced a challenging campaign since he was first elected to the Senate in 1978.
Regardless of the Republican nominee, Mississippi is still a very tough state for Democrats to contest, especially in a midterm year. President Obama won just 44 percent of the vote in 2012, and African-American turnout is lower in a midterm election. Childers won reelection in a presidential year — he was first elected in a 2008 special election — but lost by 14 points to GOP Rep. Alan Nunnelee in 2010.
The last time Democrats contested a Mississippi Senate race was in 2008, with former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove as their nominee. But Musgrove lost badly to Sen. Roger Wicker, by 16 points.