Childers, Davis in Miss. congressional runoff

Published 6:54 pm Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Democrat Travis Childers and Republican Greg Davis face three more weeks of campaigning to decide who will fill north Mississippi’s vacant congressional seat for a few months.

They are headed to a May 13 runoff after finishing in the top spots of a six-person special election Tuesday. Childers was ahead with all precincts reporting, but neither he nor Davis managed to grab a simple majority.

The contest is to fill the rest of a two-year term that Roger Wicker started in January 2007. Wicker has moved to the Senate.

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More than bragging rights are at stake. Davis and Childers are on the Nov. 4 general election ballot. The special-election winner will be the incumbent, with a likely advantage in fundraising and name recognition.

Davis is the mayor of Southaven and was buoyed by a strong showing in his base of DeSoto County, a conservative and rapidly growing area that’s home to several bedroom communities just south of Memphis, Tenn.

Childers is chancery clerk of northeast Mississippi’s Prentiss County, and he fared well Tuesday in rural areas. He is being backed by the Blue Dogs, a coalition of conservative congressional Democrats.

“We’re just going to saddle up … and start all over again,” Childers said in a phone interview Tuesday night from Booneville. “We’re mighty humbled by the good vote all across this district.”

Davis told cheering supporters in DeSoto County that there are distinct differences between him and his opponent. He said Childers would help “liberals across this country who want to take away our rights and our moral conservative values that we hold dear.”

“We will cling to our religion,” Davis said, mocking a recent comment by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Childers responded that the Republicans are using “cookie cutter” criticisms that they use against most Democrats.

“They don’t have a message. They’ve never had a message from the beginning,” Childers said. “Voters are pleased that we’re talking about building people up instead of tearing people down.”

With all precincts reporting, Childers had 31,138 votes, or 49.4 percent, while Davis had 31,066 votes, or 46.3 percent.

Only four of the six candidates said they were seriously in the race — Childers, Davis, independent Wally Pang and Green Party candidate John M. Wages Jr.

Democrat Steve Holland and Republican Glenn McCullough tried to withdraw from the special election, but the ballots already had been set.

Tuesday marked the third time people have voted in the 1st District in the past six weeks. The March 11 party primaries and April 1 runoffs were to determine who will be on the 1st District ballot in November for a two-year term that starts next January.

On April 1, Holland lost to Childers and McCullough lost to Davis. Although Holland and McCullough were unable to withdraw from Tuesday’s special election, notices were supposed to be placed at the polls to say Holland and McCullough do not intend to serve if elected.

The special election was nonpartisan in name, but not in reality. Party affiliations were not listed, but Childers and Davis got help from their national organizations.

Democrats hope to recapture the seat that Wicker first won in 1994, when Republicans grabbed control of both the House and the Senate. Wicker succeeded Jamie Whitten, a Democrat who reached the pinnacle of Washington power as chairman of the Appropriations Committee. Whitten retired in 1994 after half a century in office.

In December 2007, Republican Gov. Haley Barbour appointed Wicker to the Senate when the GOP’s Trent Lott resigned with five years left in a six-year term.

Childers calls himself a “Jamie Whitten Democrat.” Barbour campaigned for Davis this week in Tupelo.