George Will

Childers says he does not fear the arrival, next Monday, of Vice President Dick Cheney here in DeSoto County, where President Bush enjoys 67 percent job approval. As evidence that nationalizing the election is a barren strategy, Childers cites last Saturday's special congressional election in Louisiana, where the Democrat ended the Republican Party's 33-year hold on the 6th District, in spite of the Republican candidate's charge that his opponent would be allied with Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. But because national Democrats can be problems for Southern Democrats, Childers wants to change the subject, making this an election not about party but about geography: Should the district be represented by someone based, as Davis is, in the Memphis metropolitan area?

If Childers wins on Tuesday, Davis will have another crack at him in November, when the top of the Democratic ticket, whoever it is, might be a heavy weight in Childers' saddle. But Davis had better win now because Mississippians in this district know how to split their tickets. For a House record 53 years from November 1941 to January 1995, while the South was changing from solidly Democratic to solidly Republican, Mississippi's 1st District was represented by Democrat Jamie Whitten.

In 1928, when some Southern Democrats balked at voting for their party's presidential nominee, Al Smith, a Catholic, incensed party loyalists popularized the saying, "I'd vote for a yellow dog if he ran on the Democratic ticket." There are few white "yellow dog" Democrats left in the South, but many unshakable Democrats: 36 percent of Mississippians are African-American, the highest percentage of any state. Mississippi has the largest number of African-American elected officials, including 47 of 174 state legislators. If Obama becomes the Democratic nominee, stimulating African-American turnout, Musgrove's Senate candidacy could benefit, leading the national Democratic Party to open its wallet for him.

So, a Childers win on Tuesday would be a scary harbinger, and not only for House Republicans. Senate Republicans might have an unanticipated worry in an unlikely state.

George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
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