SOUTHAVEN, Miss. -- The 1st Congressional District, the northernmost in the most culturally Southern state, has given the nation William Faulkner and Elvis Presley, and next Tuesday will have a special congressional election that will test the Republican hope that Barack Obama and his former pastor can be the basis of a Republican strategy to nationalize congressional races to the disadvantage of Democrats. A Senate seat also could be affected by the cascading consequences of Republican Sen. Trent Lott's December resignation.
Republican Gov. Haley Barbour replaced him with 1st District Rep. Roger Wicker, who this November will be on the ballot seeking election to the remainder of Lott's term. Wicker's opponent is former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, who has won two statewide elections.
The winner of the Republican nomination to fill Wicker's House seat is Greg Davis, mayor of this town, which is on the far west side of the district, just down Interstate 55 from Memphis. This location is -- read on -- a problem. His Democratic opponent, Travis Childers, a chancery clerk and businessman, is from the district's east side, which is less affluent. In seven elections, Wicker's smallest majority was 63 percent. In 2004, George W. Bush carried the district with 62 percent.
The April 1 primary run-off determined that Davis and Childers will be on the November ballot. But in the April 22 nonpartisan special election to settle who will serve the remaining months of Wicker's term, Childers fell just 410 votes short of 50 percent, which would have given him the seat. Davis received 46 percent.
At the peak of the furor about the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama's Web site endorsed Childers. Davis promptly produced an ad featuring Wright in full throat. The ad said:
"When Obama's pastor cursed America, blaming us for 9/11, Childers said nothing. When Obama ridiculed rural folks for clinging to guns and religion, Childers said nothing. Travis Childers. He took Obama's endorsement over our conservative values."
Childers, who is pro-life and pro-gun, told a Memphis television interviewer that "Senator Obama has not endorsed my candidacy. I've not been in contact with his campaign nor has he been in contact with mine." The last two assertions are, Childers insisted in a telephone conversation on Monday, true. But the television interviewer asked him, "Would you accept Obama's endorsement?"
Childers: "Let me tell you what sort of endorsements we're looking for and that we've had. We've had the endorsement of working people of north Mississippi, working families."