You can travel a long way from here and still find someone from Mississippi.
New First District Congressman Travis Childers learned that lesson recently when he was searching for an apartment in Washington. Childers, who emerged the winner after a political fist fight to see who would replace on an interim basis the departed Roger Wicker as Northeast Mississippi’s representative, found a place close to his office and once all the lease details were taken care of, asked his new landlord, “Where you from?”
Replied the man: “Tupelo, Mississippi.”
How fitting a man from Tupelo would be providing the roof over Childers’ head in Washington, because Tupelo voters had a lot to do with Childers needing that roof in the first place.
After what seemed like dozens of primaries and runoffs, Childers, the longtime Prentiss County Chancery Clerk, defeated Republican Southaven Mayor Greg Davis May 13 in a special election and became — until at least the general election in November — the district’s first Democratic congressman since Jamie Whitten.
Tupelo vs. DeSoto County
The election essentially came down to Tupelo versus DeSoto County. Each time, Tupelo won, startling when you consider it had been a Republican hot spot since Wicker won his first election to congress in 1994. Davis carried DeSoto County and a handful of others. Childers won everywhere else, the district’s rural voters turning out en masse to propel him to victory.
The regionalistic overtones the election took on, says one of Childers’ campaign advisors, only could have been spurred by a candidate like Childers — a small-town businessman (Childers still has a real estate company in Booneville) who came of age during the Whitten years and could connect with rural voters who still revered Whitten and his policies. That’s what it would take to combat Davis and the huge population base that would certainly support him in DeSoto County, said Brad Chism, president of Zata 3, a direct voter-contact company based in Washington that worked on behalf of Childers.
“Travis had a great story to tell,” Chism said. “He was the perfect candidate.”
And since he has been in Washington, Childers has hit the ground running. He is now officially a member of two committees — the Agriculture Committee and the Financial Services Committee. He’s conducting a series of meetings with House leaders to determine which subcommittees he will join.
“The day I got up here, (House Speaker Nancy Pelosi) asked me what committee I could best serve Mississippi on, and I didn’t hesitate to tell her it was the ag committee,” Childers said last week from his office. “Agriculture is still our biggest industry, and there was nobody from Mississippi on that committee.”
Political analysts love to compare elections with dogs chasing cars. The chase is the fun part, but once the car is caught, what to do with it? Childers has caught the car. So, what now?
“We’ve got to do something about Social Security,” Childers said. “That was a promise made, not just a policy decision. It was a promise, and I intend to honor Mississippi’s part of it.
‘We’re business folks’
“It’s a big job and it’s a big task,” Childers said, adding that he plans to rely on his roots as a businessman to guide him. The same principles he relied on in building a successful real estate company can turn him into an effective advocate for his district, he says.
“We’re business folks,” Childers said of his family. “The greatest thing a public official can do for his constituents is give them a good job with good benefits. That’s what we’re after.”
And good jobs follow a good education system. Childers labels himself a product of and staunch supporter of public school systems.
“We’re losing too many bright minds in Mississippi,” Childers says. “I don’t want our children to get educated in Mississippi and then go to Texas, California, Florida, wherever. I want those bright minds to stay in Mississippi. We need them. So we have to create an economic atmosphere that will keep them here.
reached across the aisle in North Mississippi to create jobs. We’re going to do that here. I’m a consensus-builder. I want North Mississippians to have jobs. We need them to have jobs.”
All the work in Washington will have to be balanced with continuing to campaign here. Although Childers outpolled him, Davis remains a formidable opponent and has plenty of time to regroup for November’s general election.
Childers is quick to say that he loves the excitement of campaigning. The adrenaline never stops. Giving stump speeches, shaking hands and kissing babies can be intoxicating.
“Everybody knows that I could campaign 18 hours a day, and be tickled to death to do it,” Childers said. “Nobody loves campaigning more than I do. Nobody will work as hard at it as I will. But my first obligation is to do the job I asked for.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at clay.chandler@ msbusiness.com .