Senate race tops Tuesday ballot

Published 12:09 am Monday, November 3, 2014

JACKSON (AP) — A Senate race that started with a bitter Republican primary a few months ago will come limping to a close Tuesday when Mississippi voters decide whether to send the GOP’s Thad Cochran back to Washington for a seventh term.

Since winning a June 24 primary runoff that his opponent never conceded, 76-year-old Cochran has largely ignored his two general-election challengers — Democrat Travis Childers, who spent 2-and-a-half years representing north Mississippi in the U.S. House before being swept from office in a Republican wave of 2010; and the Reform Party’s Shawn O’Hara, who has run unsuccessfully for more than a dozen offices in the past quarter century.

Childers, 56, repeatedly called on Cochran to debate. Cochran repeatedly said no, although the most recent time reporters asked him about it, the former Senate Appropriations Committee chairman responded as if Childers had just brought up the subject.

Email newsletter signup

“It’s a little late in the game to be starting up a campaign. You do a debate at the beginning of the campaign season, not at the end,” Cochran said Wednesday after a business event in Jackson.

“I’ve been working for the last 40 years for Mississippi,” said Cochran, who spent six years in the House before winning a Senate seat in 1978. “I have a clear and well known record. My voting record is there for everybody to see. He’s the one that doesn’t have a record.”

Childers has a Washington record, and it’s one he said he was eager to compare to Cochran’s.

For example, Childers said when he was in Congress, he voted for legislation that would require equal pay for women and men doing the same types of jobs. Cochran voted to block a similar bill this year, and his campaign spokesman, Jordan Russell, dismissed the legislation “an election year stunt and a gift to trial lawyers.”

During a campaign trip through south Mississippi, Childers said Republicans can use the trial-lawyer scare tactic for any issue they oppose.

“The American people and the people of this state are so sick of that excuse,” said Childers, whose son is an attorney.

While Childers has run to the left of Cochran on issues such as the equal-pay legislation and his support of increasing the minimum wage, he has run to the right on immigration.

Cochran made vague statements in ads about controlling immigration, but Childers was the only Democratic Senate candidate this year to sign a pledge from the Federation for American Immigration Reform, saying he would oppose increasing the number of immigrants and guest workers allowed into the United States. Childers said he signed it because he believes the influx of people not lawfully in the county is exacerbating Mississippi’s unemployment rate, which is second-highest in the nation.

The other Mississippi candidate to sign the pledge was state Sen. Chris McDaniel, the tea party-supported candidate who tried to unseat Cochran in the Republican primary and who sued — unsuccessfully — to try to overturn Cochran’s win by claiming the runoff was tainted by improper votes. Asked if he’s angling for votes from McDaniel supporters, some of whom are still bitter about the primary loss, Childers said: “I’m trying to attract all voters.”

Cochran has faced persistent questions about whether he will serve the entire term if he’s re-elected. His former colleague, Republican Trent Lott, retired from the Senate in late 2007, less than a year after beginning his fourth term. Then-Gov. Haley Barbour moved fellow Republican Roger Wicker up from the House to the Senate as a temporary successor for Lott, and Wicker won a special election a few months later to finish the term Lott started.

“I have no intention of specifying a date of retirement,” Cochran said Wednesday. “I’m running for a term of six years, and I expect to serve that period of time, and I hope I can do it capably and in a way that reflects credit on the state.”

Mississippi hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate since the 1980s, and Childers has received little financial help from national Democratic groups. Still, he said he hopes voters opt for a new voice on Capitol Hill.

“This is about the next six years and not the last 42,” Childers said. “This is about the future, not the past.”