As his two potential Republican opponents duked it out over the past three weeks , former Rep. Travis Childers has been traveling Mississippi and working the phones in preparation for an uphill Senate race.
If state Sen. Chris McDaniel is able to topple longtime Sen. Thad Cochran in the GOP runoff Tuesday, Childers would suddenly be the Democratic nominee in a race that could invite outside spending from both sides and give his party a third possible pickup opportunity as it defends the majority in a lopsided landscape .
But his Tuesday night plans do not involve any sort of watch party as Republican votes roll in.
“I don’t want to be sitting around waiting on their results,” Childers told CQ Roll Call in a phone interview. “I will probably be on the road.”
Before the June 3 Democratic primary, which Childers won with 74 percent , fundraising was slow for the former congressman. He had raised just $124,000 by the end of May, including a $5,000 check from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and one from Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Michael Bennet, plus $2,000 in total from four fellow former Democratic congressmen who, like Childers, lost seats in 2010.
Since then, Childers said he’s spoken with other former House colleagues and sitting senators. Plus, since his resounding primary win and with an extended GOP race that could result in an untested nominee , Childers has noticed increased enthusiasm from all donors. Speaking with CQ Roll Call last week after a couple days in Biloxi at the Mississippi Association of Supervisors Convention, Childers said he's been balancing his time between events and phone calls.
“When I first started, I’m not sure how many folks thought maybe that I could win. I’ll just go ahead and say that,” Childers said. “And now people are seeing that I can win. There’s more excitement even in my fundraising calls. People are pleased, I think, that they have a reasonable alternative to what has been a very contentious primary.”
Childers has the core of his campaign team in place. It includes Trish Reilly, a longtime chief of staff to former Rep. Tim Holden, D-Pa., as campaign manager; Dane Strother for media; John Anzalone for polling; Ed Peavy for direct mail; and Brad Chism for phones and voter targeting. Kristen Hawn, a former Blue Dog Coalition communications director, started Monday on the Childers press team, joining Lindsey White.
But it all depends who wins Tuesday.
As a Democrat in a state that leans heavily Republican, Childers likely would still enter the race as the underdog against McDaniel, whose time as a radio host has already provided fodder for opposition researchers and whose hesitation about supporting federal disaster relief may not be helpful in the general.
The DSCC isn’t commenting on the race just yet, as Senate operatives from both parties await Tuesday’s result. The National Republican Senatorial Committee is doing all it can to get Cochran through, including reporting a $175,000 independent expenditure on his behalf on Monday and hosting an $820,000 fundraiser a couple weeks ago.
In a phone interview, Chism said no one on the campaign is working under the assumption that the race will jump to the top of national Democrats’ priority list on Wednesday — no matter the outcome — but he emphasized the party has an opportunity with Childers as the nominee.
“Childers is a centrist problem-solver,” Chism said, highlighting what will undoubtedly be a central theme of the Democrat's campaign if McDaniel prevails. “He’s not flashy, but he’s steady, and you won’t find anyone in Washington on either side of the aisle ... to say he’s mean-spirited or uncompromising.”
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