Thad Cochran, Travis Childers speak at Mississippi business event

Republican U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran (right) and Democratic challenger Travis Childers. (The Associated Press)
Republican U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran (right) and Democratic challenger Travis Childers. (The Associated Press)
Republican U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran (right) and Democratic challenger Travis Childers. (The Associated Press)

JACKSON, Mississippi (AP) — Six-term incumbent Thad Cochran told Mississippi business leaders Wednesday that he will be in line for a committee chairmanship if Republicans regain control of the Senate.

Speaking at a state chamber of commerce event in Jackson, Cochran stopped short of saying he would chair the Senate Appropriations Committee, a powerful spending panel he once led and of which he is still a member. He said it’s too early to know who would lead which committee.

“My service on the Appropriations Committee over a period of time has helped ensure that our state’s requests for federal support and funding of programs that are important to us, that our wishes and our requests will be carefully considered,” Cochran said. “We want to be able to compete with every state in the union.”

His Democratic challenger in Tuesday’s election, former U.S. Rep. Travis Childers, said in a separate speech that the U.S. is trillions of dollars in debt because nobody in Washington can balance a checkbook. Childers, who has been a real estate agent for more than 35 years, said he’d use his private business experience to help control federal spending.

“If anybody in this building thinks that Washington, D.C., is working, they’re fooling themselves,” said Childers, who served in Congress from mid-2008 until a Republican unseated him in 2010.

Cochran said the U.S. has “a debt problem” and “an annual deficit that’s being projected that sounds too high to me.”

“I want to help reduce that deficit and help restore the fiscal integrity that that will produce,” Cochran said.

The two Senate candidates spoke to hundreds of people Wednesday at Hobnob, a casual gathering sponsored by the Mississippi Economic Council. Spectators sat at long tables inside the Mississippi Coliseum on the state fairgrounds, some of them reaching into baskets full of peanuts to grab a snack while politicians were on stage. A jazz band played upbeat tunes as speakers were introduced — “Happy Days are Here Again” for Democrats and “Proud to be an American” for Republicans.

Childers has been saying for months that he wants to debate Cochran, but the incumbent has not agreed to those requests. They didn’t debate Wednesday, and the schedule was set so they didn’t even make back-to-back speeches. The two candidates saw each other only briefly, shaking hands near the stage.

In his speech, Childers criticized a radio ad that Republican Gov. Phil Bryant has made in support of Cochran.

“He would have you believe that I’m connected to all these liberal folks all over the country,” Childers said of Bryant. “He obviously didn’t choose to look at my record, because he would have seen different.”

Childers said he would not vote for either Democrat Harry Reid of Nevada or Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to lead the Senate.

“I don’t owe either of them anything,” Childers said. “I will vote for someone who shares my values and shares your values here in the state of Mississippi.”

Cochran did not mention the Senate leadership, but made a broad request for voters’ support.

“Whatever part of the state or however much money you have, or don’t have, it’s my job to represent everyone in our state in the U.S. Senate,” said Cochran, who withstood an expensive and hard-fought Republican primary challenge from a tea party-supported state senator.

A Reform Party candidate, Shawn O’Hara, is also on the ballot for Senate. He was not invited to speak at Hobnob.