Former congressman Travis Childers, the Democratic Senate nominee in Mississippi, on Thursday signed an anti-amnesty pledge a conservative organization is pushing, a move that could endear him to disgruntled supporters of former tea party candidate Chris McDaniel, the runner-up to Sen. Thad Cochran in the GOP primary.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Childers said he signed the Federation for American Immigration Reform's pledge in part because he worries about Mississippi's high unemployment rate, which he thinks would be exacerbated by allowing undocumented immigrants to work in the U.S.
"I don't think you need to be rewarding people who break the law," said Childers, a conservative Democrat.
Mississippi's unemployment rate was 7.9 percent in August, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Only Georgia's was higher.
Childers's decision carries with it political implications in a race that has fallen off the national radar since Cochran won the primary. It could help Childers win over some supporters of McDaniel, who has yet to concede to Cochran. Still, the longtime senator is widely expected to win reelection comfortably.
FAIR says 29 Senate candidates and 82 House candidates have signed the pledge, including Childers and McDaniel but not Cochran. A tally on the group's Web site indicates Childers is the only Democrat to sign it.
The pledge asks respondents whether they support or oppose legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants to work legally in the U.S., increase the number of legal immigrants and increase the number of guest workers admitted to the U.S. annually. Childers said he opposes all three.
Asked whether he was making a play for McDaniel supporters, Childers responded, "This is not an issue targeted to a select group. This is an issue that Mississippians are interested in."
Breitbart News first reported that Childers signed the pledge.
Childers said he opposes the comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate last year. Cochran voted against the bill, which contained a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
Another Senate candidate asserted Thursday that he does not support "amnesty." Greg Orman, an independent challenging Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), released a TV ad saying he would "secure the border with a plan that's tough, practical and fair to taxpayers." Orman told The Post in a recent interview that he supports the Senate bill.
McDaniel lost a very close primary runoff election to Cochran on June 25. He has alleged voting irregularities and has refused to acknowledge that Cochran is the Republican nominee. McDaniel's team is trying to convince the state Supreme Court to resurrect his legal challenge of the result.
Asked whether Cochran would sign the FAIR pledge or not, the senator's spokesman, Jordan Russell, would not commit one way or the other.
"Sen. Cochran is one of three senators who has voted against every major attempt at amnesty," said Russell.
Childers entered the race in March. Democrats were hopeful that if McDaniel won the GOP primary, he would stand a real chance in the general election, given the Republican's history of controversial statements.
But Childers has become a forgotten man nationally ever since Cochran secured the Republican nomination. Analysts have given him little chance of upsetting Cochran, a longtime senator, in November.
Childers says he is not deterred by anything that happens on the Republican side.
"That's not my fight. I'm offering myself as an alternative," he said.