Jillian Bandes

Mississippi’s first congressional district has 14% more Republican voters than Democratic voters. Why, then, has incumbent Democratic Rep. Travis Childers enjoyed such popularity there?

Some say it’s because of Childers country-boy charm. He grew up in the district, supported his father-less family as a teenager, put himself through college and went on to open a successful real estate business. Childers was first elected to public office in 1991, and succeeded 6-term Republican Rep. Roger Wicker (now a Senator) in 2008.

Wicker had enjoyed wide margins of victory, so the success of a Democrat was a huge let down for the GOP; however, 2008 was the year of the Obama voting wave, and electing a hometown Democrat steal the seat wasn’t totally unexpected.

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This year, GOP challenger Alan Nunnelee wants to set things right again.

“I think that my views will be much more aligned with the views in the district, starting with the very first vote,” said Nunnelee, referring to the first vote that each new class of Congressmen take to elect House leadership. “The first vote starts with the leadership team, and my opponent voted for Pelosi to empower the Democrats.”

Nunnelee says that most of the Democratic agenda has hurt Alabama, and that voters won’t make the same mistake by electing a Democrat again. Nunnelle, also a small business owner in Mississippi, emphasizes that he has utmost respect for Childers. Nunnelee also says he’s quite certain that Childers is as liberal as they come, and that Mississippi’s first district residents simply aren’t in line with his views.

One recent issue that has come up is his level of union support, which could become an issue as the campaign progresses through the summer. In 2008, he received over $250,000 from union groups, and this cycle, a pro-union group called Citizens for Strength and Security has been paying for direct mail for his campaign. Another issue is Childers “yes” vote on the federal bailout packages authorized by President Obama.

Childers did vote “no” on health care, but that vote shouldn’t be taken at face value, said Nunnellee. Childers didn’t publicize his decision until three days before the final vote was taken, and remained silent on the issue all throughout the health care debate – holding out until the last possible minute, instead of taking a principled stand. That gives the impression that Childers did indeed support the bil, but that “the [Democratic] leadership counted to 118 and then cut loose votes in districts that would not have supported somebody who voted the other way,” said Nunnellee.

One Nunnellee supporter, Rex Gillis, said that Griffith’s waffling on the health care bill sent a clear message to the independent or otherwise undecided voters in the first district.

“I do believe he’s a blue dog Democrat,” Gillis said of Griffith, “but what he did on the health care in the press… he never flinched, he never said if he was against it or for it. He was in that group of Senators who were told that once they got it passed, they were in a tough district and didn’t have to vote.”

John Randall at the National Republican Campaign Committee pointed out that even without the health care bill ambiguity, his seat is going to be a tough one to hold on to during the 2010 cycle.

“The Democrats recognize that this is a district that is heavily Republican, that Childers flipped in ’08,” said Randall. “Childers won because of a fractured party in 2008.”

Sensing the anti-Democratic sentiments, Childers, along with Democrat Bobby Bright of Alabama, were rumored to have been considering a party switch around the same time Rep. Parker Griffith of Alabama decided to switch to the Republican Party last year. Making that move would’ve probably spelled the end of either candidate, as evidenced by Griffith’s spectacular failure in the Republican primary last week.

Nunnellee has a different perspective. He says that whoever thought Childers was waffling about which party he wanted to be a part of had it all wrong, because Childers is a true-blue liberal.

“I don’t think that ever entered into his mind,” said Nunnellee. “I think that he believes in what the self-proclaimed wing of the Democratic Party wants to do.”


Jillian Bandes

Jillian Bandes is the National Political Reporter for Townhall.com