Travis Childers’ win over Republican Greg Davis in Mississippi’s 1st District confirms that the national political climate favors Democrats in 2008 as much as it did in 2006. With Childers’ triumph, three special House elections in solidly Republican districts this year have resulted in Democratic victories.
Of the three special election victors, Childers hails from the reddest district. Mississippi’s 1st gave 62 percent of its vote to George W. Bush in 2004. Already, some are writing his political obituary. On MSNBC on Tuesday night, Pat Buchanan declared Childers D.O.A. in November – when he will stand for a full two-year term – on the grounds that he will be running on the same ticket as Barack Obama, political poison (as Buchanan sees it) in a southern district dominated by conservative whites.
Actually, Childers is a good bet to hang on in November – and possibly a lot longer than that.
First, keep in mind that, as Republican as Mississippi’s 1st District is, it will not even be the reddest district represented by a Democrat in Mississippi. That honor actually goes to the Gulf Coast-area 6th District, which Democrat Gene Taylor has represented since 1989. The 6th gave Bush 68 percent of its vote in 2004. But Taylor nearly matched that number, winning his eight full term with 64 percent of the vote – outperforming John Kerry by 32 points. He survived another Republican landslide at the presidential level in 2000, when Al Gore lost his district by 32 points. Even if Obama were to lose Mississippi’s 6th District by 40 points this fall, there’s no one who thinks Gene Taylor would be in trouble.
This success should give hope to Childers. He was elected in 1989 when Trent Lott, then the district’s congressman, resigned upon winning election to the Senate. Despite the district’s overwhelming Republican bent, Taylor has faced serious opposition just once, in 1996 – and he won that race by 18 points.
Taylor’s survival stems from his pronounced independent streak. He famously refused to vote for Dick Gephardt and Nancy Pelosi in party leadership elections in the 1990s and early 2000’s, casting a symbolic vote instead for Pennsylvania’s Jack Murtha (before he emerged as a leading anti-war figure). Taylor also sides against his party on abortion, gun control and other hot-button issues and has been an ardent foe of free trade.
Childers seems cut from the same cloth. He will enter the House as one of its most conservative Democrats, unafraid (by all appearances) to vote a staunchly conservative line on social and cultural issues.
Mississippi may be one of the more Republican states in the country, but its roots are deeply Democratic. Taylor evidently reminds 6th District voters of the Democrats they used to know, the ones who have been steadily folded into the Republican Party over the last four decades. Childers, in this campaign anyway, has conjured the same sentiment. If he can keep it up in office, he may last for a while.