Geoff Pender, The Clarion-Ledger 8:52 p.m. CDT October 2, 2014

Mississippi U.S. Senate candidate Travis Childers on Thursday became the first Democrat to sign the Federation for American Immigration Reform anti-amnesty pledge.

This raises an obvious question: Is Childers trying to pander to tea party voters in his challenge to incumbent Republican Sen. Thad Cochran, who has refused to sign the pledge?

Childers says absolutely no. He said immigration, and the FAIR pledge, has come up often when he talks with people on the campaign trail.

"As I've traveled the state, people have asked me specifically, 'Have you signed the pledge?'" said former U.S. Rep. Childers. "It makes sense. Mississippi constantly has the highest unemployment in the nation ... I don't think we need to be bringing more people in. My job is to look out for Mississippians, and I want to see Mississippians working first."

Cochran's GOP primary opponent, tea party-backed Chris McDaniel, signed the FAIR pledge, and raised it often as a campaign issue. Pending the outcome of McDaniel's legal challenge of his primary loss to Cochran, many of McDaniel's supporters have vowed to vote for Childers in the general election, in protest against Cochran and the GOP "establishment." Tea party support could help Childers with what is otherwise an anemic campaign.

But Childers said: "This is not aimed at anybody."

"Congress has kicked this can down the road," Childers said. "... Washington tries to make this a partisan issue. This is an American issue ... We have laws on the books (on immigration). If we are not going to follow that set of laws, what others are we not going to follow?"

Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund spokesman Kevin Broughton said: "So there's a no-amnesty pledge from a candidate who didn't smear Mississippi conservatives? Well, that will give us in the Magnolia State something to think about, won't it? Haley, Henry and Austin Barbour are great at playing the race card. Now I guess we'll see how they do playing the green card."

State Democratic Party Chairman Rickey Cole on Thursday said, "Travis Childers is a very deliberative man ... and I certainly defer to his judgement.

"Immigration and the need to reform our system is such a complex issue, but so much of the discussion has generated a lot of heat but not shed a lot of light. That's one of those issues I wish we could get past the two extremes."