Low turnout expected for Miss. House race

Published 5:50 pm Tuesday, April 22, 2008

North Mississippi voters go to the polls Tuesday for the third time in six weeks to decide who will represent them in Congress.

The March 11 party primaries and April 1 runoffs were to determine who will be on the 1st District ballot in November for a two-year term that starts next January.

Polls will be open 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday for a special election to determine who’ll serve until January to fill the unexpired term of Republican Roger Wicker, who has moved the U.S. Senate.

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“There is a lot of confusion. That’s what we’ve been trying to set straight,” Republican candidate Greg Davis said between campaign appearances Monday in DeSoto County and Tupelo.

Six candidates will be on the special-election ballot. But only two — Davis and Democrat Travis Childers — are expected to have a realistic shot. They won the party nominations for the general election.

“People are telling me they appreciate that we have a message and we talk about issues that matter to north Mississippi families,” Childers said Monday after campaigning in DeSoto County, Columbus and West Point.

Political scientist Marty Wiseman said he expects low voter turnout.

Democrat Steve Holland and Republican Glenn McCullough, who lost the April 1 runoffs, asked to withdraw from Tuesday’s special election, but their request came after ballots had been prepared. Officials said notices could be placed at the polls that Holland and McCullough do not intend to serve, if elected.

The others on the special election ballot are independent Wally Pang of Batesville and Green Party candidate John M. Wages Jr. of Tupelo, who are running low-budget campaigns.

A special-election runoff, if needed, will be May 13.

Tuesday’s race is nonpartisan in name, but not in reality. Party affiliations will not be listed, but Childers and Davis are getting plenty of campaign help from their national organizations.

Democrats hope to recapture the seat that Wicker first won in 1994, when Republicans grabbed control of both the House and the Senate. Wicker succeeded Jamie Whitten, a Democrat who reached the pinnacle of Washington power as chairman of the Appropriations Committee. Whitten retired in 1994 after half a century in office.

In December 2007, Republican Gov. Haley Barbour appointed Wicker to the Senate when the GOP’s Trent Lott resigned with five years left in a six-year term.

Childers calls himself a “Jamie Whitten Democrat,” and is being backed by the Blue Dogs, a coalition of conservative House Democrats. Childers is the chancery clerk in Prentiss County near the northeastern corner of the state.

Davis is mayor of Southaven in DeSoto County, a rapidly growing area just south of Memphis, Tenn. Barbour campaigned for Davis Monday in Tupelo.

Wiseman, the political scientist, said he expects geography to play a role. Davis grabbed the Republican nomination for the general election by winning DeSoto County, while McCullough won most other counties.

“It has certainly been a siren call to the folks in the east part of the 1st District, which has always regarded itself as the capital of the district,” Wiseman said Monday.

Davis and Childers both minimized talk of an east-west rivalry.

“For 13 years, Sen. Wicker represented us in DeSoto County well, and we can do the same type of job,” Davis said.

Childers said he’s telling voters that he will work hard for the whole district.

“I’m the rural candidate in this race,” Childers said. “I understand rural counties. I understand small municipalities.”

On the Net:

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

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