As we approach November, 2010, the nation's attention is beginning to turn to the Congressional elections which will take place on November 2nd. Here in Mississippi, two of our four Congressional seats are being hotly contested - both presently held by Democrats. In Mississippi's First Congressional District, Travis Childers, the Blue Dog incumbent who was elected two years ago to replace Republican Roger Wicker after Wicker was appointed to the United States Senate, is facing a strong challenge from Republican State Senator Alan Nunnelee. Childers is a former Chancery Court Clerk, a powerful position in county government in Mississippi, and he hails from rural Prentiss County, near Tennessee in the extreme northeast corner of the State and in the foothills of Appalachia. Nunnelee comes from the more urban and Republican-leaning City of Tupelo, which is located just south of Prentiss County and also in the northeastern portion of the Congressional District.
Childers is a friend and associate of the Speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives, Billy McCoy, who also is a native of Prentiss County. Childers is also the logical heir of longtime former First District Congressman and populist Jamie Whitten, who was known for "bringing home the bacon" for his constituents while at the same time attacking the "left-wingers" in Washington. Nunnelee, on the other hand, is a fiscal conservative who has served effectively as chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee in the Mississippi Legislature during trying economic times; and, in cooperation with Governor Haley Barbour and Lt. Governor Phil Bryant, has helped the State balance its budget and preserve its rainy-day fund while at the same time preserved and increased Medicaid payments for the needy and enacted increased spending for education. Just as important, Nunnelee apparently has a united Republican Party behind him as he approaches the general election and has received the endorsements of his two opponents in the Republican Primary, who he defeated without a run-off after a spirited primary election contest. Mississippi Republicans will recall that Childers, the Democrat, won the Congressional seat to replace Wicker two years ago, after a bitter Republican Primary in which the Republican nominee failed to receive the endorsement of his defeated Republican opponent.
This year, Republicans as well as Tea Party conservatives, appear to be lining up behind Nunnelee although the National Rifle Association has endorsed Childers. On the other hand, Democrats also appear to be united in backing Childers, as evidenced by a recent fund-raising invitation sent out for Childers by a group of traditionally Democratic sponsors, including the Second District Congressman, Bennie Thompson who has great influence over the substantial African-American vote in the First Congressional District.
Recent polls have been published which show that Nunnelee presently leads Childers by less than 10 points, but most observers understand that this Congressional race is only just now beginning, although the candidates have been campaigning for months. What is clear at this juncture is that the majority of the citizens of the First District are upset and concerned about the economy and the future of America in general. Many now link Childers with President Obama, which is a plus for Nunnelee at the present time.
The race between Nunnelee and Childers is now clearly on the radar screens of both national parties and their Congressional campaign committees; and both candidates will be well financed as they campaign to the wire on November 2nd. Democrats understand that they must hold on to Congressional seats currently occupied by Blue Dog Democrats such as Childers, and must give him some latitude to take public positions on issues such as health care and gun rights that will appeal to conservative voters, without threatening to strip him of party seniority benefits. On the other hand, Republicans understand that if they are to recapture a Congressional majority in the House of Representatives and stop the out-of-control spending and government bailouts that have been a part of the Obama agenda, they simply must win districts where the voters are basically conservative. Simply put, if Republicans cannot win this year in the First Congressional District in today's environment, the District is likely to remain in the hands of the Democrats for the foreseeable future.
In my judgment, the race between a Nunnelee and Childers will be close and a "trend-setter" nationally. If Childers wins, look for the Democrats to lose some seats in the House of Representatives but retain substantial control with Nancy Pelosi re-elected as Speaker of the House (with the support of Childers). If Nunnelee wins, look for the Democrats nationally to have a long night.
If Mississippi Republicans can stay energized and united in the months ahead, Nunnelee should win this election. However, it is important that Republicans have a strong voter turnout in Tupelo and the northeast Mississippi area surrounding populous Lee County, where many self-styled "yellow dog Democrats" reside (citizens who would vote for a Democrat even if the candidate is a yellow dog). Just as important, it is crucial for Nunnelee that Republicans have a strong turnout further west in populous DeSoto County as well, which enjoys the fourth largest population in Mississippi and where most of its citizens work in Memphis and look to the Memphis media for their news. On occasions in the past and particularly in Presidential elections, voters in DeSoto County have turned out to vote in tremendous numbers and with substantial Republican majorities. In other elections, without national impact, voter turnout in DeSoto County has often been abysmal.
Voter turnout will likely determine the winner of the Nunnelee-Childers race on November 2nd. If Republicans want to win badly enough, this is our chance to take back the seat we should not have lost in 2008.
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