Identifying and analyzing emerging trends in campaigns and elections.

Two Ex-Congressmen Returning in Mississippi

In Election Analysis on March 3, 2014 at 11:05 am

Candidate filing closed in Mississippi on Saturday and two former US congressmen, both defeated for re-election in 2010, will return to appear on the federal ballot again this year.

In a move that had been speculated upon for several weeks, former 1st District Rep. Travis Childers, defeated 55-41 percent by current Rep. Alan Nunnelee (R) in 2010, officially entered the US Senate race. Childers won an upset victory in a 2008 1st District (Tupelo; Columbus; Memphis suburbs) special election after then-Rep. Roger Wicker (R) was appointed to the Senate. He was re-elected to a full term six months later, serving a total of two and one-half years in the House.

But former Rep. Gene Taylor’s political comeback is more surprising. The former congressman won a special election back in 1989 after Republican incumbent Larkin Smith died in a plane crash, and then served 21 consecutive years as a Democrat in a deep red conservative district before losing 52-47 percent to current Rep. Steven Palazzo (R) in the Republican landslide year. Even more surprising than Taylor running again is his now doing so as a Republican.

Though the former veteran incumbent voted conservatively for two decades, he rejected all previous overtures to switch parties. He even went so far last October to publicly say that doing so would make him “feel like a prostitute.”

Irrespective of those feelings, Taylor now switches parties and attempts to regain his previous position in the Republican Party primary. Also filing against Rep. Palazzo is gun store owner Tavish Kelly. The latter’s candidacy won’t amount to much, but even a point or two could throw the race into a run-off if Palazzo and Taylor run close. The primary is June 3 with a run-off election scheduled, if necessary, for the 24th. Rep. Palazzo begins the campaign as a decided favorite for renomination.

The Senate race may be a bit more intriguing. Incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran, first elected in 1978 after spending three terms in the House, faces a serious Republican primary challenge from state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who enjoys strong national Tea Party support. Attacking Cochran on his length of congressional service (now 42 years at age 76), and his becoming part of the “Washington establishment” McDaniel is polling within single digits of the veteran incumbent.
Therefore, should an upset occur in the June primary, the door could be open for Childers in a general election battle against McDaniel. Without Sen. Cochran on the ballot, the Democratic nomination would quickly become a more viable political platform, especially with a credible candidate like former Rep. Childers as the party standard bearer. A McDaniel-Childers contest would attract resources from national Democratic sources and put what should be a safe Republican seat into play.

Elsewhere in the state, the remaining three House members are virtually assured of re-election. Rep. Gregg Harper (R-MS-3) will run unopposed. Congressmen Nunnelee and Bennie Thompson (D-MS-2) have drawn only Independent opponents as the respective major parties did not file candidates to challenge them.

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