A closer look at the 1st District Mostly white, working-class, high school grads

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal


TUPELO – Meet the typical 1st Congressional District resident.
She’s a white, middle-aged woman with a high school diploma. She’s married with at least one child and works in the education, health care or social services sector.
She earns about $25,000 and, combined with her husband’s salary, was able to purchase a three-bedroom home costing less than $100,000. She lives about 23 minutes from work.
The 1st District resident leans Republican, but has been known to elect Democrats on occasion.
She has health care coverage for herself and her family but knows several people who don’t. She also knows some people surviving on government assistance like food stamps and housing vouchers.
Born and raised in Mississippi, the 1st District resident is an able-bodied, English-speaking American with an English-Irish ancestry.
And she’s got a 47 percent chance of voting in the Nov. 6 general election for her next congressional representative, U.S. senator and president of the United States.
The 1st District occupies most of Northeast Mississippi as well as a few areas usually not considered part of the region. Its lines changed slightly after the 2010 Census, which, along with the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 American Community Survey, provided most of the data for this story.
Gone are Grenada, Panola and Yalobusha counties. The district instead picked up a portion of Oktibbeha County. It has 22 counties in all. Among them exist four of the state’s 10 most populous cities: Southaven, Tupelo, Olive Branch and Horn Lake.
“The unique thing about the 1st District is that it has become based on two poles,” said Marty Wiseman, executive director Mississippi State University’s John C. Stennis Institute of Government. “You’ve got the Tupelo pole and you’ve got the DeSoto County pole … and there’s a possibility of a rivalry between the two sides of the district.”
That rivalry presented itself in the 2008 Republican congressional primary between Southaven Mayor Greg Davis and former Tupelo Mayor Glenn McCullough. Both fiercely vied for the GOP nomination, but Davis carried the race with solid support from his county.
Davis ultimately lost the general election to eventual one-term congressman Travis Childers, a Democrat from Booneville.
Republican U.S. Rep. Alan Nunnelee of Tupelo currently represents the 1st District. He defeated Childers in 2010, reclaiming the district for the GOP after it had been held by Roger Wicker for 13 years.
Nunnelee faces re-election this year against a slate of competitors: Democrat Brad Morris of Oxford, Constitution Party representative Jim R. Bourland of Columbus, Libertarian Danny Bedwell of Columbus and Reform Party representative Chris Potts.
Wicker, now the incumbent U.S. senator, also faces re-election against Democratic challenger Al Gore Jr. of Starkville.
In addition to the typical resident, the 1st District also has 788,094 other inhabitants. A large majority are working-aged white residents with their own homes and at least a high school diploma.
But that’s not the entire picture.
Nearly one in three of the district’s residents are minorities, one in three live in households making less than $25,000 a year; one in four are renters; one in five never graduated high school; one in five live below the poverty level; one in six have no health insurance; one in seven receive food stamps; one in eight are foreign born.
And, based on the latest figures from the Mississippi Secretary of State’s Office, one in two don’t vote.
emily.lecoz@journalinc.com