Former Congressman Childers: Key to runoff success is identifying voters, begging

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U.S. House of Representatives

Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Travis Childers

Travis Childers, former 1st District U.S. House member, knows about running election campaigns with quick turnarounds.

In 2008, Childers, a northeast Mississippi Democrat from Prentiss County, participated in four elections in a little more than two months. On March 11, he led the ticket in the Democratic primary for the 1st Congressional District, but did not garner the majority needed to avoid the runoff – prompting a runoff three weeks later.

Then on April 22, Childers was the top vote-getter in a congressional special election called to finish the term of Roger Wicker of Tupelo, who was appointed to a vacant U.S. Senate seat by then-Gov. Haley Barbour. In the special election, Childers also did not garner a majority vote, forcing a runoff.

“I was only 410 votes short of avoiding a runoff” in one of those elections, Childers mused.

Childers ended up winning all four elections, and the November general elections, allowing him to finish the final seven months of Wicker’s term and then serve a full two-year term.

On Tuesday, Democrats David Baria, a Bay St. Louis state House member, and Howard Sherman, a Meridian entrepreneur, advanced to a June 26 runoff for the U.S. Senate seat. The winner will face Wicker in November. And Republicans Michael Guest, district attorney for Rankin and Madison counties, and Whit Hughes of Madison, a former economic developer and hospital foundation president, advanced to a runoff for the 3rd District U. S. House seat being vacated by Gregg Harper. Guest led the ticket with 44.8 percent compared to 22.3 percent for Hughes. The winner of the Guest-Hughes runoff will face Democrat Michael Evans, a state House member from Preston, in November.

Childers said the key to winning the runoff is “to convince the people who voted for you in the first election to return to the polls for the runoff.” He said candidates will not attract many new votes for the runoff.

“In my opinion, you don’t have time to recruit new folks,” Childers said. “You will try, but the best chance you have is to identify the voters you had in the first primary and beg them to go back to the polls.”

Childers said candidates have a good idea of the people who voted for them through social media, and various other ways.

“In every county there is a list of who voted,” he said. “I know each candidate in the runoff has someone in every county going through those lists to see who voted.

“If they voted in the first primary, there is a good chance they will vote again. But they have to be prodded and asked.”

In most instances, there is a dropoff in voter participation from the first primary to the runoff. That means that there will be a premium on trying to convince voters to return to the polls, especially in the Democratic Senate race where, according to Associated Press compilations, there were fewer than 90,000 voters statewide.

In the 2006, Senate Democratic primary in a mid-term election (where turnoff is much less than in presidential election years,) 104,804 people voted in the first election. In the runoff, the turnout dropped to 29,967. To put that total in context, vote counts in Mississippi often exceed 1 million statewide in presidential election years.

In the 2014 Democratic Senate Democratic primary where Childers did win without a runoff, 85,866 people voted, comparable to the turnout in the Democratic primary Tuesday.

According to unofficial results, Sherman barely edged out Baria 31.9 percent to 31 percent.

One of the few times where turnout actually increased from the first election to the runoff was the 2014 Republican primary for the U.S. Senate where then-incumbent Thad Cochran faced a contentious challenge from anti-establishment candidate Chris McDaniel of Ellisville.

McDaniel led the ticket in the first primary, but narrowly missed gaining a majority vote. In the runoff, Cochran’s forces were able to win by increasing the number of voters by an astounding 62,326 votes to a total of 382,221.