First District race

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Dems have good chance to nab 1st District seat

By Billy Davis

The heated race for Mississippi’s 1st Congressional District is one week away today, and state Democrats are close to picking up a U.S. House seat that has been in the hands of the Republican Party since 1994.

1st District voters on April 22 nearly delivered the seat to Democrat Travis Childers, a chancery clerk from Prentiss County. On a six-man, non-party ballot, Childers came within 410 votes of winning the seat and avoiding a runoff with Southaven Mayor Greg Davis. More than 62,000 votes were cast across the 24-county district.

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“Mr. Childers has been all over the 1st Congressional District since January, and there’s been great enthusiasm and excitement for his candidacy,” said Terry Cassreino, press secretary for the Childers campaign.

In Panola County, Childers beat Davis by a single vote of 2,115 votes cast.

 But now voters will choose between Childers and Davis one more time next Tuesday. The winner will fill the unexpired term of Tupelo attorney Roger Wicker, who was appointed to a U.S. Senate seat, though voters will again select a candidate in November to serve a two-year term.

1st District voters have seen very little political maneuvering since Republican Roger Wicker won the seat more than a decade ago. Before Wicker held the House seat, political stalwart Democrat Jamie Whitten held the seat long enough to set a record in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Childers made a campaign stop in Batesville last Friday at the Batesville Job Corps Center, which was hosting an open house for the public. Childers toured the facility, peppered center director Dean Kindle with questions about the facility and its operation, and stumped for votes.

“I need your help next Tuesday,” the Democrat told more than one potential voter.

In a conservative district that President George W. Bush won by 25 points in 2004, Childers is touting his conservative viewpoint on hot-button issues such as abortion, illegal immigration, and Second Amendment rights. He has shared much harsher words for the war in Iraq and spiraling gas prices, which are likely the reason Bush is enduring record-low approval ratings.

Childers enjoyed large turnout numbers on the April 1 party primary, which narrowed candidates for the November general election, and on the April 22 election that set up next Tuesday’s runoff. But Davis has managed to close the turnout gap, pulling in 31,066 votes on April 22 after receiving 16,830 votes in the Republican primary on April 1.

Even with the increased turnout, however, Davis still trailed Childers by 2,072 votes on April 22.

“The momentum on the ground has turned,” Davis campaign manager Ted Prill said of the vote gap.

With Childers close to winning the seat, the 1st District race has gained national attention from both political parties and political observers. Losing the conservative seat would be viewed as an embarrassment for the GOP and a surprise victory for the Democrats.

According to various press reports, the National Democratic Congressional Committee (NDCC) has spent about $1.1 million to help Childers win the 1st District seat. The cash-strapped Republican Congressional Committee has far less money on hand but has poured more than $500,000 into the race.

“Mississippi’s First Congressional District is ruby red, and the fact that Travis Childers won 2,000 more votes and two-thirds of the district’s counties is a major problem for Republicans now and heading into November,” a spokesman for the national Democratic Party told Web site, a conservative Web site that follows national elections.

The Web site itself described the April 22 results as “Democrats came within an inch of stealing one of the most Republican districts in the Deep South.”

“We’ve run first in every election so far,” said Cassreino. “We have the momentum to win on Tuesday.”