Rain dampens early turnout in Mississippi primary runoffs

Published 3:48 pm Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Rain, lightning and rumbling thunder dampened the early voting Tuesday in Mississippi’s congressional primary runoffs — races that were already expected to see a light turnout.

“We’re getting rain over here and that hurts,” said Donna Jill Johnson of the Lauderdale County Circuit Clerk’s office. “We had just hoped for a good turnout — Lauderdale County is usually way above the state average on all elections — but with a second primary and rain, you are up against motivation already.”

A spot check of other counties in the 1st District and the 3rd District indicated early light voter interest, especially in areas with thunderstorms.

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“But when it’s over, a win’s a win,” said political scientist Marty Wiseman, director of Mississippi State University’s John C. Stennis Institute of Government. “There have been some folks who’ve had long careers in politics after winning with low turnout.”

Polls opened at 7 a.m. and were to close at 7 p.m. in the two districts. There were no runoffs in the state’s two other congressional districts.

The 1st District, in north Mississippi, has a runoff for each of the two major political parties. The Republican contest is between Southaven Mayor Greg Davis and former Tupelo Mayor Glenn McCullough Jr. The Democratic contest is between Prentiss County Chancery Clerk Travis Childers of Booneville and state Rep. Steve Holland of Plantersville.

The 3rd District, in central Mississippi, has a Republican runoff between two attorneys from Rankin County — Gregg Harper of Pearl and former state Sen. Charlie Ross of Brandon.

The first primaries were three weeks ago. The March 11 ballots included Democratic and Republican presidential races, which traditionally generate a great deal of voter interest. There are no runoffs for the presidential primaries.

Winners advance to the Nov. 4 general election.

People who voted in Democratic primaries March 11 were not being allowed to vote in the Republican runoffs, and people who voted in the Republican primaries are not allowed to cross over to the Democratic runoff.

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

Rankin County is one of the most heavily Republican parts of the state, and because Ross and Harper both live there, it will be vital in deciding the winner. Wiseman said Monday the candidate who runs stronger in another population base, Meridian, “gets the edge.”

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

“It isn’t very often a congressional seat opens in Mississippi” Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said. “This year, we have two, so it’s important all Mississippians cast their ballot for the candidate of their choice.”

Rep. Chip Pickering, a Republican 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.

On the Net:

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

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

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