Democrats Land Top-Tier Senate Recruit In Mississippi

Former Rep. Travis Childers will be announcing campaign, hoping to exploit GOP divisions in the state.

Travis Childers (D-MS) stands during a mock swearing-in on Capitol Hill May 20, 2008 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Josh Kraushaar
Feb. 28, 2014, 10:03 a.m.

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.

Alex Roarty contributed to this article.
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