Brad Chism, president of the Democratic consulting firm Zata3, gave behind-the-scenes observations of U.S. Rep. Travis Childers' recent win in Mississippi's First Congressional District.

At a monthly luncheon sponsored by The John C. Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University and the Capitol Press Corps, Chism said he believes Democrats won because they had a superior candidate, opposition attacks failed to resonate, and the Childers campaign returned to traditional Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts.

Chism said, "Any good race starts with a quality candidate," and Childers was one of about three Democrats in that district that could be considered top tier candidates for such a race. He called Childers a family man who had overcome adversity and whose campaign focused on a strong issue pallet: gas prices, trade, jobs and economic development.

"Fortunately for him, [Greg] Davis and [Glenn] McCullough had this nuclear war going on that drove up their negatives," Chism said. "While the Republicans were duking it out" Childers had the "ability to tell his story early on."

He praised Nashville-based media firm Fletcher, Rowley, Chao, Riddle for fashioning Childers' media, saying some people outside Mississippi thought it was hokey, but it worked and fit their shoestring budget. While Childers loaned the campaign $150,000 of his own money, Chism said it was not until the end that national money poured in to triple the budget and staff.

Chism rejected what many Republicans are saying, that Greg Davis was a flawed candidate. Pointing to Davis' record as a legislator and a mayor, he said it was not a flawed candidate, but a flawed campaign strategy.

First, Davis attempted to nationalize the campaign and connect Childers to Jeremiah Wright, John Kerry, and Nancy Pelosi. Voters never bought it. Chism said many people look down on bubbas, but they have a strong "B.S. detector."

Next, Davis tried to localize the attacks by leveling charges against a Childers' nursing home. Chism said the Childers campaign was fortunate to have a Republican woman walk in the door and explain her mother lived in that nursing home, had loved Travis Childers, and Childers even spoke at her funeral. She asked what she could do to help. The campaign taped her story on the spot, edited it and loaded it into robo-calls that saturated DeSoto County. Chism claims the Davis campaign pulled the attack spot quickly afterward.

Finally, Chism said bringing Vice President Dick Cheney (whom he called the "poster boy for big oil") to the district during record gas prices was a tactical blunder. Chism mused that the Davis campaign must have decided there were no swing voters left and they were trying to maximize their base turnout, which failed to happen. It further helped Democratic efforts in the eastern part of the district when Cheney said he was going to South Memphis, rather than Southaven. Democrats used the geographic divide to demonstrate that Childers was a local, conservative Democrat and not one of those Washington liberals.

Apart from the Davis mistakes, Chism said Democrats returned to their grassroots to make the victory happen. Chism noted Republicans used massive turnouts in DeSoto County, Lauderdale County, and the metro-Jackson "bedroom communities" to beat then-Gov. Ronnie Musgrove in 2003. He said that finely tuned GOP get-out-the-vote machine failed to materialize for Davis and meanwhile, the Democrats targeted 50,000 households door-to-door with follow up phone contacts. He claims Democrats simply beat Republicans with a better field campaign.

Chism thanked the efforts of traditional Democratic constituencies: labor helping "in the Memphis area" and the Association for Justice (formerly the Trial Lawyers Association) in key-targeted precincts. Chism said that Davis hit his target turnout in DeSoto County but could not split the rest of the district enough to win. (A source close to the Davis campaign said they actually missed the DeSoto target by 1,500 votes short, but that Davis underperformed in all his counties.)

According to Chism, the two most underreported assistants to the campaign were U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson and state Rep. Steve Holland.

Thompson got in the race early on behalf of Childers, endorsing him even when two African-American candidates were in the race. Thompson made personal phone calls and worked to touch African American voters privately to boost their turnout. When Holland lost the primary, he did not just give Childers his endorsement: he turned over his campaign fundraising lists, voter lists, and all his polling data, while making personal calls to his supporters asking them to go vote for Childers.

Chism noted two significant differences that could have affected the race in favor of Republicans.

First, had the special election been conducted in March, the national money and attention might not have arrived to help Childers in time. Second, had Davis brought in John McCain (who Chism says is very popular in Northeast Mississippi) instead of Dick Cheney, this column might have been a different story.

Brian Perry of Jackson, a former congressional aide, is a partner in a public affairs firm. Reach him at