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A Look Back At MS-01

November 3, 2010

In 2008, Travis Childers won a seat that he never should have in all honesty. That isn’t a criticism necessarily, more like a testament to the politician he is. But however good of a retail politician he may have been, he was no match for voters who were fed up with Democrats- regardless of how independent they claim to be.

And Alan Nunnelee was obviously the right candidate to sweep into office. And a sweep it was- Nunnelee won by 14 points with just one precinct outstanding. I think it’s safe to say this was stronger than any predictions people were willing to make. Cook had the race as a toss-up, while Rothenberg and Sabato categorized it as a slight lean for Nunnelee. Obviously it wasn’t slight.

How did Nunnelee do it? By pretty much winning everywhere in the district. There was no regional divide. Save for his home county of Prentiss, Childers did not win any counties that do not have a significant black population. Here are some quick comparisons from 2008: In 08 Childers won 57 percent in Itawamba, this year he won just 33 percent. In 08 he won Pontotoc with 53 percent, he managed just 30 percent this time around. A loss of 20 plus points in these majority-white counties was more common than not. He even lost 20 points in Prentiss compared to 2008.

We’ll try to get a chart up comparing 2008 and 2010, but it is simply astonishing. As for the two largest counties in the district- Lee and Desoto- they came in big for Nunnelee. The Republican won Desoto 65-29 with about 35,000 votes cast in the county (third-party candidates picked up a relatively high six percent in Desoto). Nunnelee also won Lee by a 61-37 margin. It’s obviously Nunnelee’s home base but it is a place Childers won 56-43 two years ago.

In case you are wondering what the most Republican county in the district is, it is not Desoto but Webster. The small county in the Eastern portion of the district (home to Henry Ross) gave Nunnelee a 72-25 win. Unfortunately for the GOP, there were only about 3,000 votes in the county.

Nunnelee’s polling comes through

The last internal polling from the Nunnelee camp put him up 51-40 over Childers. Once again, that seemed a little high to me but the spread was basically right on the money. We often talk of the tilt of internal polling (which is true in most cases), but Tarrance Group put out strong- and accurate- numbers. Maybe this is why we didn’t see much polling from Childers’ side. We ought to remember for future instances.

The other polling data- which I put more trust in- was commissioned for The Hill and it gave Nunnelee a small 44-39 lead. Obviously it underestimated Nunnelee’s strength, but I certainly wouldn’t discredit it. I just believe all those undecided’s broke for the challenger as is often the case.

Another point from the polling (save for the one internal Childers released) is that Childers was stuck somewhere between 39 and 43 the whole time. We said many times this is never a place you want to be as an incumbent, and that certainly rang true here.

Where do we go from here?

I feel safe predicting that this seat will be safe for Nunnelee as long as he wants it (borrowing some major scandal). Much like Roger Wicker rode to re-election with little- and sometimes no- competition, I expect the same for Nunnelee.

As for Childers it’s hard to say what his next plans are. Will he run for a different position or is he done with politics? Two years ago, his win was what I consider the strongest win for the Mississippi Democratic Party since we had a solid two-party system in the state. This wasn’t the ancestral Democrat I like to talk about, but a win over a battered but legitimate Republican for a seat held by a Republican for 14 years. He still has a lot of goodwill from Mississippi Democrats and perhaps a job as head of the state party is in line.

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