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Travis Childers’ Elasticity Problem

Former Mississippi congressman Travis Childers, a Democrat, announced Friday that he will run for the U.S. Senate. Victory will not come easy.

A poll in November showed Childers trailing longtime Republican Sen. Thad Cochran by double-digits. Childers’ best hope might be if Republican voters boot Cochran in the primary; polls suggest that Childers would have a better chance against tea party candidate Chris McDaniel.

But even if McDaniel wins, it’s important to remember that Democrats are about as welcome in Mississippi as a winless season at Ole Miss. The Magnolia State was once a Democratic haven, but the only current Democratic statewide office holder is Attorney General Jim Hood. No Democrat has won the governor’s mansion since Ronnie Musgrove in 1999, and none has won a U.S. Senate race since John Stennis in 1982.

Moreover, even if the national political environment favors Democrats on Election Day, the effect in the Mississippi will probably be minimal. Mississippi is inelastic; it has few swing voters. The state’s large black population routinely gives 90 percent or more of its vote to Democrats, while the white population usually doles out 80 percent or more of its vote to Republicans.

Democrats don’t just lose; they tend to lose by the same amount year after year. In gubernatorial and U.S. Senate elections since 2003, every Democratic candidate got between 35 percent and 46 percent of the vote.

It’s possible that Childers will break this streak: He has shown he can win over conservative voters. The state’s 1st District, which he represented in Congress, was more Republican than the state as a whole.

But the partisan gravity in Mississippi is strong and hard to reverse. Childers is a clear underdog.

Harry Enten was a senior political writer and analyst for FiveThirtyEight.