After Special, Childers Is on Good Footing

Posted September 23, 2008 at 6:40pm

Mississippi 1st district Republican nominee Greg Davis says he has new polling data that showed him within the margin of error in his race, and he insists that his fundraising has improved this quarter. But even some GOP insiders aren’t optimistic about Davis’ chances of ousting newly elected Rep. Travis Childers (D) this fall.

Davis, who lost a special election to Childers in May in what had long been considered a safe Republican district, said Tuesday that his path to victory this fall is fairly simple: The Nov. 4 electorate will be two to three times larger than it was in the special election. And Davis said his victory will come from the fact that the overwhelming majority of those voters pick Republicans in national elections.

The mayor of Southaven added that he will benefit heavily from the contests that will appear on the ballot above the Congressional race — specifically the presence of the GOP presidential ticket, well-liked Sen. Thad Cochran (R) and appointed Sen. Roger Wicker (R). Wicker hails from the 1st district and is running in a special election to fill the term of resigned Sen. Trent Lott (R).

Davis said a new Public Opinion Strategies poll taken Sept. 11-12 and paid for by his campaign and the National Republican Congressional Committee showed him to be less than 5 points behind Childers. Both men were under the 50 percent mark in the survey, Davis said, although he declined to release the head-to-head numbers.

He also said that after a slow start in fundraising for the general election, he expects to report $200,000 in cash on hand at the end of September.

But Democrats, and even some Republicans, just aren’t buying that Davis has a viable path to victory. And it’s telling that though the NRCC helped with Davis’ latest poll, the committee hasn’t reserved any television time in the district. Indeed, national party officials are much more vocal about their chances of returning Louisiana’s 6th district — which they also lost in a special election this spring — to the GOP column than they are about their prospects in Mississippi.

A high-profile push from Mississippi Republican leaders such as Gov. Haley Barbour, Cochran or Wicker could help shift some focus of the national party to the 1st district race, but it remains to be seen if that is forthcoming.

One Mississippi-based consultant said Davis probably shouldn’t count on a lot of help from Wicker, who represented the district for nearly seven terms.

Childers “has no incentive to do anything in Wicker’s [Senate special election] race and Wicker would be foolish to do anything in Childers’ race,” the consultant said. “They are both counting on the same voters. … Both of them got elected on the backs of self-described conservative Democrats. On the one hand, Wicker certainly needs those people now more than ever. But on the other hand, Childers can’t go after someone who did a whole lot for those folks in his 13 years in office.”

Some state GOP insiders say that part of the skepticism over Davis’ chances is the simple fact that Mississippi has a long history of sticking with its incumbents. And after Childers beat Davis by 8 points in a high-profile battle in May, many Magnolia State political types simply assumed that 1st district voters wouldn’t fire their new Congressman after less than six months on the job.

Last week, the Childers campaign released a recent poll that showed him ahead by 12 points. Party leaders on Capitol Hill have also done all they can to allow Childers opportunities to prove his conservative credentials. Last week, he notched his first major legislative victory when the House approved an amendment he sponsored that would reverse a decades-old gun ban in the District of Columbia.

And then there’s the fact that Davis continues to face an image problem in the district.

“I don’t think the dynamics of the candidates have changed” since May, said Brian Perry, a partner with the Republican consulting firm Capstone Public Affairs. “You still have a suburban mayor versus a courthouse country boy. And the courthouse country boy is going to sell over most of the 1st district better than the suburban mayor.”

But Perry did add one advantage for the suburban mayor: “There are a whole lot of votes in suburbia in the 1st district in a presidential election year.”

Davis also needs to unite the Republican base, something he had problems with in his special election when he was blamed for alienating GOP voters in and around Tupelo after a nasty GOP primary fight with former Tupelo Mayor Glenn McCullough.

Presenting a more positive message than what voters saw in his special election fight is something Davis said he’s focused on in the current campaign.

“We talk about the fact that nobody got to find out who Greg Davis was and what we’ve done. And we apologize for the mud they had to trudge through” in the special election, Davis said. “This campaign will be about who we are and what we’ve done … and also this time Travis Childers has a voting record.”

Some Republicans have criticized Davis for “going dark” in the two months following his general election loss, and Davis acknowledged Tuesday that the NRCC wanted him to do more in the early summer months to raise money for the general election. At the end of June, Childers led Davis in cash on hand by more than $100,000. National Democrats are also prepared to come to Childers’ defense if necessary, having reserved more than $1 million in ad time in the district.

But Davis said he was busy during that time “repairing those bridges,” especially in Tupelo and the northeastern part of the district.

“In that first campaign, we were too busy traveling the district and raising funds and not doing what got us to where we are today,” Davis said.

He also said he’s not counting on the national party swooping in to help him this time around.

“We’re not counting on their involvement in this race. We’re counting on winning it here at home,” he said. “They would be very welcome to assist as long as they allow us to move forward with the campaign we have in place.”

Childers’ campaign remains confident that voters will see how much work the Congressman has done in such a short time.

Childers campaign manager Dana Edelstein said her boss has “made good on his campaign promise to be an independent voice” for his constituents.

“In just four short months, Travis Childers has accomplished an incredible amount for north Mississippi, and his constituents will respond to that in November,” she said.