Miss. holds runoffs Tuesday in congressional primaries

Published 11:54 pm Saturday, March 29, 2008

As Mississippians head to the polls for Tuesday’s congressional runoffs, here’s a bit of useless but interesting trivia.

Retiring U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering has five sons, two of whom are named Ross and Harper.

The two Republicans now competing to succeed Pickering in central Mississippi’s 3rd District are named Ross and Harper.

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Former state Sen. Charlie Ross and Gregg Harper are attorneys who live in Rankin County. Both have a long history of deep involvement in Republican politics.

Because the 3rd District is drawn to favor the GOP, it’s likely that the winner of the Harper-Ross race will go on to defeat the Democratic nominee, Joel L. Gill, in Nov. 4 general election.

Polls will be open 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday. There also are Republican and Democratic runoffs in north Mississippi’s 1st Congressional District. All the runoff candidates advanced from the March 11 primaries.

Harper and Ross are juggling busy campaign schedules in the 3rd District, which stretches from Natchez in the southwestern corner of the state to the Jackson suburbs in central Mississippi and to Starkville in the Golden Triangle.

“The message of my campaign from the very beginning is that the district needs a congressman with legislative experience and a record of getting things done so he can hit the ground running, and I have such a record,” Ross, 52, said in an interview Friday.

Harper, 51, said in a separate interview that the central message of his campaign is “helping to return the Republican Party to its conservative roots.”

“We’re very strong on putting an end to illegal immigration,” Harper said. “When we’re talking about the gas prices, it’s time we started building oil refineries. We should be allowed to drill for oil in Alaska (and) offshore. There are millions of acres of federal land that have been set aside, not national parks. We can drill for oil safely.”

The 1st District includes DeSoto County and the northern cities of Oxford, Tupelo, Columbus and Booneville.

The 1st District Republican primary is between Southaven Mayor Greg Davis and former Tupelo Mayor Glenn McCullough Jr.

The 1st District Democratic primary is between Prentiss County Chancery Clerk Travis Childers of Booneville and state Rep. Steve Holland of Plantersville.

It’s unusual for Mississippi to have two of its four U.S. House seats come open in the same year.

Pickering, who first won the 3rd District seat in 1996, chose not to seek re-election this year and said he plans to sit out of politics for a while, though probably not forever. His term expires in January.

Republican Roger Wicker was elected to the 1st District seat in 1994. He moved to the Senate in December 2007 after Gov. Haley Barbour chose him to fill a seat left vacant by the early retirement of Trent Lott.

The regular-election primaries for the 1st District are overlapping with a special election there. On April 22, there is a nonpartisan special election to fill the final few months of the two-year term Wicker started in early 2007. A runoff, if necessary, will be May 13.

In Monroe County, Circuit Clerk Judy Butler said last week that there was “major confusion” among voters because of the overlapping regular election primaries and special election in the 1st District.

In the 3rd District, Harper and Ross have been trying to appeal to the traditional Republican base by talking about preserving gun owners’ rights, limiting federal spending and strengthening national defense.

Ross is an Air Force Academy graduate and was a fighter pilot before earning a law degree from Harvard University. He was a C-141 pilot for the Mississippi Air National Guard during Desert Storm in 1991. Ross served one year in the Mississippi House and 10 in the state Senate. He ran for lieutenant governor in 2007, losing to Phil Bryant in the Republican primary.

Harper is a former Rankin County GOP chairman. He has a chemistry degree from Mississippi College and a law degree from the University of Mississippi. Harper is prosecuting attorney for the cities of Brandon and Richland.

Harper said he wants to give people in their 20s, 30s and 40s the option of putting some of their Social Security taxes into private accounts. He said he also wants to be an advocate for “families who have the blessing and challenges of raising children with special needs.”

Harper has received the personal endorsement of the Rev. Donald Wildmon, president and founder of the Tupelo-based American Family Association.

In the Senate, Ross pushed for the Castle Doctrine, a 2006 law that provides civil immunity for people who use deadly force to protect a home, business or vehicle. The law was backed by the National Rifle Association, and the NRA is endorsing Ross in the Republican congressional primary. Ross also pushed to limit other types of lawsuits, and now he is endorsed by several business groups, including the Associated General Contractors of Mississippi.

Gill, 56, won the 3rd District Democratic nomination on March 11. He is a second-term alderman in the tiny town of Pickens and is president of the Mississippi Livestock Markets Association.

On the Net:

Gregg Harper: http://www.greggharperforcongress.com

Charlie Ross: http://www.charlieross.com

Joel Gill: http://www.gillforcongress.org

Travis Childers: http://www.childersforcongress.com

Steve Holland: http://www.stevehollandforcongress.com

Greg Davis: http://www.gregdavisforcongress.com

Glenn McCullough Jr.: http://www.glenn08.com