Fields set for Miss. congressional races in November

Published 3:53 pm Wednesday, April 2, 2008

A national Republican campaign group is vowing that the GOP will hold onto Mississippi’s two congressional seats that are open this year.

A Democrat competing in one of the races says he will run hard to regain the seat formerly held for half a century by Jamie Whitten, a country Democrat who brought untold millions of dollars to his rural district as chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

“I’m a Jamie Whitten Democrat,” Travis Childers of Booneville said Tuesday night after winning his party’s nomination in a 1st Congressional District runoff. “If I am fortunate enough to be elected, I will lead north Mississippi and represent working north Mississippians like they deserve to be represented.”

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Southaven Mayor Greg Davis won the Republican nomination the 1st District.

Attorney Gregg Harper of Pearl won the Republican nomination Tuesday in central Mississippi’s 3rd District, clearing the way for a likely victory against a low-budget Democrat in November.

“The GOP is strongly positioned to hold onto both Magnolia State open seats this November,” the National Republican Congressional Committee said in a news release late Tuesday.

The 1st District seat is open because Republican Roger Wicker moved to the Senate in November. Wicker first claimed the House seat for the GOP in 1994 when Whitten retired.

The 3rd District seat is open because Republican Chip Pickering chose not to run this year. He was first elected in 1996.

Mississippi’s two Democratic congressmen, Bennie Thompson and Gene Taylor, are expected to easily defeat little-known Republican opponents in November.

Harper, a former Rankin County Republican chairman and longtime GOP volunteer, defeated former state Sen. Charlie Ross of Brandon in the 3rd District runoff. It was Ross’ second defeat since August, when he lost the Republican primary for lieutenant governor.

Harper’s Nov. 4 Democratic opponent is Joel Gill, a cattle buyer and seller. Gill is an alderman in the tiny Delta town of Pickens, which is not even in the 3rd District. The law does not require candidates to live in the congressional district where they’re running — but voters usually expect it.

“We’re not taking anything for granted,” Harper said from his victory party Tuesday night in Jackson. “We’re going to work hard. What we did, we didn’t do by ourselves to get the nomination. We had the best group of volunteers I’ve seen in the 30 years I’ve been involved in politics.”

Davis and Childers will compete in November for the chance to take office in January.

But first, Davis and Childers — and other candidates — will meet in an April 22 special election. The winner of that special race will serve the rest of this year to finish the two-year House term that Republican Roger Wicker started in January 2007. Gov. Haley Barbour appointed Wicker to the U.S. Senate in December after Trent Lott resigned.

Childers, the Prentiss County chancery clerk, defeated state Rep. Steve Holland of Plantersville on Tuesday. Davis defeated former Tupelo Mayor Glenn McCullough Jr.

Davis said from his election-night party in DeSoto County: “We stand for the strong conservative principles that the 1st District deserves to have representing them in Washington. We feel that is a message that will be well received among all the voters.”

The 1st District includes fast-growing DeSoto County and the northern cities of Oxford, Tupelo, Columbus and Booneville. Wicker was elected to the congressional seat in 1994.

With 100 percent of precincts reporting in the 1st District Democratic contest, Childers had 20,729 votes, or 57 percent; Holland had 15,439, or 43 percent.

With 100 percent of precincts reporting in the 1st District Republican contest, Davis had 16,830, or 51 percent; McCullough had 16,305, or 49 percent.

All the runoff candidates had advanced from the March 11 primaries.

The 3rd District stretches from Natchez in the southwestern corner of the state to the Jackson suburbs in central Mississippi and to Starkville in the Golden Triangle. It is drawn to favor Republicans.

With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Harper had 29,307 votes, or 57 percent; Ross had 22,139, or 43 percent.

In the 1st District, independent Wally Pang of Batesville and Green Party candidate John M. Wages Jr. of Tupelo are running in the April 22 special election and general election. Holland and McCullough also had qualified for the special election, but it was not immediately clear Tuesday whether they would stay in the race.