ATLANTA (Reuters) - Mississippi Democrat Travis Childers won a U.S. House of Representatives seat in a special election on Tuesday that analysts said should serve as a warning to Republicans gearing up for November’s congressional elections.
Childers defeated Greg Davis in a run-off to fill a vacant seat in Mississippi’s first congressional district, according to projections reported by local media.
Vice President Dick Cheney and the state’s Republican governor campaigned against Childers in a district considered safe territory in part because it voted heavily for U.S. President George W. Bush in 2004.
Advertisements run for Davis in this conservative part of the country attempted to link Childers to Sen. Barack Obama, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, who is viewed by some Mississippi voters as too liberal.
The win expanded the Democratic majority in Congress to 236 versus 199 seats held by the Republican Party, according to the chairman of the Congressional Democratic Caucus, Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who described it as a “political thunderbolt.”
“It is yet another rejection of the House Republican agenda, the Bush administration’s misguided policies, and John McCain’s campaign for a third Bush term,” Van Hollen said.
Most of the attention this election cycle has focused on the race to succeed Bush, but the two parties are locked in an equally competitive battle for the House and Senate, with Democrats seeking to extend slim majorities.
Childers’ win follows two gains by Democrats in seats in Louisiana and Illinois and suggests that formerly solid Republican districts might be up for grabs in November.
“If Democrats can win safe Republican districts, then those that are truly on the fence certainly have got to be looking like Democratic seats,” said Marty Weisman, professor of political science at Mississippi State university.
“It will certainly signal to the Republicans that they truly have a fight on their hands all across the country in the fall,” Weisman said.
To win, Childers assembled a coalition of voters in the western part of the district, many of whom are African Americans, as well as so-called “Yellow Dog” Democrats, who are primarily white and working class, Weisman said.
The election was called when Republican Roger Wicker was appointed to the U.S. Senate after former Sen. Trent Lott resigned in December. Childers and Davis will likely face each other again in November to determine who serves out a full two-year term for the seat.