Travis Childers traveled to southern Mississippi recently after a campaign poll showed his name recognition there was distressingly low.
“It was low enough that it hurt my feelings,” the former congressman said. “So I went down there and started shaking hands and kissing babies. I told the folks in South Mississippi, ‘Please don’t be afraid of me because I live up there in that little northeastern corner of Mississippi. I want to represent y’all too. … I’ll be back.'”
Now that Sen. Thad Cochran has won this year’s GOP nomination in his bid for a seventh term, Childers, the Democratic nominee, is fine-tuning his battle plan for the November election.
Childers spent last week talking with reporters, campaigning and raising money. He met with Democratic state officials in Jackson and others on Saturday to discuss campaign strategies. On Tuesday, he heads back south to Hattiesburg.
“I will spend enough time in South Mississippi to increase not only my name recognition, but I want them to know of my sincerity,” Childers said in a telephone interview Friday. “At the same time — make no mistake — I do not plan to forget my North Mississippi folks. They’ve been too good to me.”
Childers faces an uphill battle against Cochran, who’s in line to chair the powerful Appropriations Committee if Republicans take control of the Senate.
Cochran eked out a win against tea party-backed state Sen. Chris McDaniel in a GOP runoff Tuesday, ending one of the nation’s most competitive Senate primary races.
Political experts and even fellow Democrats say Childers must appeal to conservative white voters as well as to blacks, a difficult task in the racially polarized state.
“Childers is going to have a difficult time winning the election because, No. 1, he’s a Democrat, and the face now of the Democratic Party in Mississippi is a black face,” said Leslie McLemore, who once headed the Fannie Lou Hamer Institute on Citizenship and Democracy. “It’s not a coalition face.”
But others say Childers can be competitive.
Childers served a two-year term representing Mississippi’s 1st Congressional District in the northern part of the state. A member of the Blue Dog Coalition of fiscally conservative House Democrats, he was unseated by Republican Rep. Alan Nunnelee in 2010.
“He’s a solid candidate,” said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “It’s really hard to turn him into a screaming liberal. I think he’s pretty modest. He’s a good campaigner. He’s very personable. He’s smart.”
The Cook Report rates the seat as “likely” to stay Republican.