For former Democratic congressman Travis Childers, winning a Senate seat in deeply-conservative Mississippi is a tough challenge. But for Democrats, just running a competitive race against the newly minted Republican nominee will go a long way toward determining whether Democrats can hang onto their majority.
In Mississippi, the electorate is more racially polarized than any state in the country. African-Americans make up about one-third of the state's voters and they are overwhelmingly Democratic. In 2008, a whopping 98 percent of African-Americans supported President Obama, while only 11 percent of whites supported the president that year.
To win in a state like Mississippi, Democrats need to mobilize African-American voters and, more importantly, peel off enough persuadable moderate white voters who are in increasingly short supply.
That's what Childers was able to do in his surprising 2008 special election victory to the state's First District House seat. He ran as a conservative Democrat who was pro-gun, pro-life, and against gay marriage. Capitalizing on growing Republican discontent with President Bush over the Iraq war and a weak Republican challenger who hailed from the Memphis suburbs, Childers coasted to victory with 54 percent of the vote.