Travis Childers wins Mississippi's Democratic nomination for Senate

JACKSON, Miss. - Former U.S. Rep. Travis Childers won the Democratic nomination Tuesday for Senate in Mississippi.

He is running for a seat that Republican U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran has held for six terms. Cochran, 76, is supported in Tuesday's primary by the state's GOP establishment. He is challenged by state Sen. Chris McDaniel, 41, who's backed by tea party groups.

Childers, 56, moves to the Nov. 4 general election and will face the Republican nominee and the Reform Party's Shawn O'Hara.

In the Democratic primary, Childers defeated three candidates, including Bill Marcy, who has twice run unsuccessfully for the U.S. House as a tea party Republican. Childers said Tuesday that if he's elected to the Senate, he will advocate policies to help the working class, including strengthening public education.

"I'm tired of watching Mississippi families just get by," Childers said. "I want them to get ahead."

Childers won north Mississippi's 1st District U.S. House seat in a 2008 special election and was unseated in 2010 by a Republican who painted him as an ally of Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat who was then House speaker.

Childers bristled at the portrayal, noting he had voted against Pelosi on big bills, including the health overhaul that President Barack Obama signed into law in 2010.

Third-party groups spent about $8.4 million in Mississippi's Republican Senate primary, mostly on TV ads. Cochran's campaign spent $3 million and McDaniel's spent $1 million.

A candidate who ran a low-budget campaign, Thomas Carey, also was on the Republican ballot.

The Republican contest took a bizarre turn in mid-May when four McDaniel supporters were arrested in what Madison police said was a plot to photograph Cochran's wife on Easter Sunday in the nursing home where she has lived the past 13 years with dementia. Investigators said an image of Rose Cochran appeared in an anti-Cochran video that was briefly posted online April 26.

McDaniel has called the incident reprehensible and said he had nothing to do with it.

Still, some voters had their doubts.

Dyline Lee, 60, of Pearl, said she voted for Cochran because she believes that McDaniel will ultimately be tied to the photo of Rose Cochran.

"I believe he was behind it," Lee said. "I believe they're going to trace it back to him. I just don't like it when they play dirty like that."

Tea party stars traveled to Mississippi in the past week to campaign for McDaniel. Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, said Thursday in Ellisville that McDaniel would challenge the status quo in Washington. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who won Mississippi's GOP presidential primary in 2012, appeared Saturday in Diamondhead.

Cynthia Floyd Moore, 54, of Grenada, is a Republican former political consultant who said she spent an hour and a half waving a McDaniel sign next to a busy road after she voted for him Tuesday. She said she likes McDaniel's pledge to support term limits and believes "he will stand for our Constitution."

Moore said she respects Cochran but believes he has been in office too long. Although Cochran has said he intends to serve the full six-year term if he's re-elected, Moore said she is skeptical. She said she doesn't want the governor to appoint a senator, which happened in December 2007 when Republican Trent Lott stepped down less than two years into a term. Then-Gov. Haley Barbour elevated fellow Republican Roger Wicker from the U.S. House to the Senate as a temporary appointment. Wicker then won a 2008 special election to fill the final four years of the term.

"That is not a fair process for my vote and representation," Moore said Tuesday. "I'm very against appointment."

Mississippi has a history of keeping U.S. senators for decades. The last time the state voted one out of office was in 1942.

Cochran was first elected to the Senate in 1978 after six years in the House. He is a former Senate Appropriations Committee chairman, and top Republicans in the state praised him for bringing billions of dollars over the years.

Former Gov. Haley Barbour sent an email to more than 2,000 people last week praising Cochran and criticizing the out-of-state groups that spent big money to try to unseat the senator.

"These groups don't care about Mississippi; they don't know the difference between Pascagoula and Pontotoc," Barbour wrote. "For these groups, this is about getting a scalp to increase their national political reputations; it is not about who would represent our state more effectively."

The Madison Group, a small-government advocacy group based in Texas, is among those that spent money to support McDaniel. In an email Monday, it called for help in a get-out-the-vote effort to defeat Cochran and "make this the Waterloo for the GOP establishment."