July 31, 2014 9:54:49 AM
PHILADELPHIA -- For a half-hour or so, Republican Sen. Thad Cochran will be in the same place and talk to the same crowd as Democratic rival Travis Childers. And it might just be the only time during this year's campaign that'll happen.
Such is the draw of the Neshoba County Fair, an annual social gathering and political confab in the red clay hills of Mississippi. While interest groups could spend millions on television ads and sophisticated voter-outreach efforts before Election Day, the fair is proudly old-fashioned and decidedly low-tech.
Known as "Mississippi's Giant Houseparty," the 10-day event attracts tens of thousands of revelers each year, including extended groups of families and friends who spend their vacation camping in shotgun cabins painted bright shades of turquoise, pink, yellow and orange.
There's a small midway, an exhibit hall for quilts and canned vegetables, and a dirt track for horse racing -- no (legal) betting allowed. And just about every politician in the state, too.
Today, Childers and Cochran are to step into a tin-roofed pavilion the size of a small church to talk to voters who typically sit on long wooden benches, shuffle their feet on the sawdust-strewn dirt and create small breezes with hand-held fans emblazoned with campaign logos.
While Childers, a 56-year-old former congressman from north Mississippi, has said he wants to debate Cochran in each of Mississippi's four congressional districts this fall, the 76-year-old former chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee didn't agree to debate his GOP opponent during their contentious primary and runoff.
Childers is up first with a 10-minute speech, then Cochran -- and it could be a rough crowd for both. A south Mississippi tea party group has encouraged members to show up to protest Cochran's win over state Sen. Chris McDaniel in the June 24 Republican primary runoff.
Certified results show Cochran won by 7,667 votes, but McDaniel has not conceded, saying it was wrong for Cochran to lure "liberal Democrats" to vote in a Republican contest.
Along with its fair, Neshoba County is best known as the place where, 50 years ago this summer, three civil rights workers were ambushed by Ku Klux Klansmen, shot to death and buried in an earthen dam. Their bodies were found 44 days later, after an informant told the FBI where to dig.
In June 2005, a mixed-race jury in Neshoba County convicted Edgar Ray Killen of manslaughter. A judge sentenced the former preacher to 60 years in prison. He remains in the Mississippi State Penitentiary.
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