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Mississippi Races

House Outlook for 2008

Will the GOP Swing the Pendulum Back?

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Mississippi (01)

Outlook: Leans Democratic


May 31, 2008 Update:

On the count of three, everybody panic.

One… Bill Foster in Illinois’ fourteenth…Two… Don Cazayoux in Louisiana’s sixth…Three!

Democrat Travis Childers‘ special election victory over Southaven mayor Greg Davis (R) was the stuff of Democratic dreams and Republican nightmares. Capping three special election upsets in conservative districts, Mississippi’s first congressional district delivered the most decisive and significant result for the national political parties. Unlike IL-14 and LA-6, this district was ”no excuses” territory for the GOP. By any reasonable standard, Republicans should hold this seat–the district gave President Bush 62 percent in 2004 and, unlike in the previous races, Republicans had a credible candidate. Even though Childers’ maintained a stable polling lead up until election day, his larger-than-expected eight point margin was a ‘wake-up call’ to congressional Republicans which continues to reverberate through Washington politics.

How did it happen? The conventional wisdom of a toxic national mood for the Republican Party fails to tell the whole story of a race with uniquely local idiosyncrasies of character and geography. Like Cazayoux (but not Foster), Childers was not your typical Democrat. The Prentiss County Chancery Clerk hails from the nearly extinct tradition of ”Southern Democrats.” A pro-life social conservative, Childers touted his love of God, guns, and good-old-boy society. His political base lay among the rural courthouse crowd in the southern part of the district, while Davis came from the Memphis suburbs and was considered an outsider to many voters. Over the course of two months and five ”runoff” elections, Childers maintained his tiny vote plurality over Davis despite heavy spending by campaign committees and independent organizations trying to link Childers to national Democrats.

The special election upset sent the national parties into a frenzy. The Republican leadership searched for someone to blame (NRCC chair Tom Cole, ex-Senator Trent Lott, and Senator Roger Wicker are the leading candidates), while individual members scrambled to secure their own reelection plans. In some way, the defeat may be a blessing in disguise for House Republicans, allowing them to rewrite their message before November and adopt the moderate, change-oriented themes of their standard-bearer, John McCain. Democrats, meanwhile, have struggled to contain their enthusiasm as estimations of the electoral playing field have grown from 10 to 20 to as high as seventy-five. If celebration turns to complacency, the may well prove a curse for House Democrats, but for now, the party looks poised for another banner year in 2008.


Background

What a difference a few months makes! This time last year, Republican Rep. Roger Wicker was the owner of one of the safest seats in the House. His smallest margin of victory in a reelection campaign was 32 percent and Bush carried the district by 25 in 2004. When Senator Trent Lott announced his retirement, Wicker’s good fortunes took an even better turn, as he was appointed by the governor to fulfill the rest of Lott’s term.

Wicker’s good fortune did not transfer to the GOP. In one of the biggest special election shockers in a season of surprises, Democratic county clerk Travis Childers defeated Republican mayor Greg Davis 54-46 in the May 13 runoff to capture the remainder of Wicker’s term in office. The November general election will be a rematch of Childers and Davis’ May showdown, will both candidates reprising their roles as their party’s respective nominee.

For Childers, the key to reelection will be to quickly establish himself in Congress, showing he has hit the ground running. Most freshman House members get two years to make an impact and get noticed; Childers will have six months. Davis’ challenge is to prove to party leaders that the May results were a fluke, a prospect made more challenging by the fact by Childers’ very strong showing in the April nonpartisan primary. While both candidates ended the campaign broke, they will have to quickly rev up their campaigns again, especially the fundraising machinery. Childers will be helped by national Dems who see him as a poster child for a banner year. Davis, who was helped heavily by the NRCC in the special election, may not be able to count on as much support by an organization trying to cut their losses and make smarter investments. With round one of this matchup over, we won’t have to wait long for these candidates to step back into the ring.

Candidates

Travis Childers – Democrat – current Congressman
Website

Greg Davis – Republican – mayor of Southaven
Website