Analysis: 2012 not stressful for Mississippi incumbents

By Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press

JACKSON — This is a comfortable election year to be a sitting U.S. representative, U.S. senator or appellate judge in Mississippi.

Incumbents have raised far more campaign cash than challengers, adding to their built-in advantage of name recognition. Judicial candidates are extremely limited in what they’re allowed to say, so it’s tough for a challenger to pick apart an incumbent’s record and promise to do things differently. Mississippi has been predictably Republican in presidential elections for three decades, and Barack Obama and Mitt Romney aren’t wasting much money on advertising here.

All of this makes for a relatively lethargic electorate leading into the Nov. 6 election. And when voters aren’t agitating for change, incumbents can expect an easy time.

One of Mississippi’s two U.S. Senate seats is on the ballot. Republican incumbent Roger Wicker is challenged by three candidates running low-key campaigns, including Democrat Albert N. Gore Jr. of Starkville.

Wicker, now 61, was appointed to the Senate in December 2007 by then-Gov. Haley Barbour, after Republican Trent Lott resigned. Wicker then won a November 2008 special election to fill the final four years of the term Lott started. The 2008 race was bare-knuckles politics, with Wicker defeating Democratic former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, a man who had been one of his closest friends when the two were state lawmakers from north Mississippi.

Gore, 82, is a retired United Methodist minister and retired chaplain for the U.S. Army Special Forces.

“My travel budget is my back pocket,” Gore told The Associated Press. “I think I’ve been given about $3,200. The rest of it has been out of my pocket.”

Wicker had $2.3 million in his campaign fund, according to his most recent disclosure. Still, Wicker said last week that he’s traveling and asking for support: “I’m not taking it for granted.”

Mississippi has a history of keeping incumbents in Congress for decades, so it was unusual in 2010 when voters turned out two of the four U.S. House members. Republican challengers used the same tactic of tying the local Democratic incumbent to Democrat Nancy Pelosi of California, who was then speaker of the House. The technique — vote Republican to unseat Pelosi — worked. In the northern 1st District, Travis Childers lost to Alan Nunnelee. And in the southern 4th District, Gene Taylor lost to Steven Palazzo.

Now, Nunnelee is challenged by four candidates, including Democrat Brad Morris, an Oxford attorney who was Childers’ chief of staff. Palazzo faces three challengers, including Democrat Matthew Moore, a community college student who entered the race in early September after the original nominee withdrew for family and business reasons. Neither incumbent appears in danger of being a one-termer.

Democrats aren’t even trying to unseat Republican Rep. Gregg Harper in the central 3rd Congressional District. His only opponent is a Reform Party candidate who’s doing little, if any, campaigning.

In the 2nd District, which stretches through the Delta and into most of Jackson, Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson faces three challengers, including the same Republican he defeated in 2010, Bill Marcy of Vicksburg.

Supreme Court races will be decided in all parts of the state, and a Court of Appeals race will be decided in the Delta and parts of Jackson.

The most competitive Supreme Court race is in the northern one-third of the state, to succeed Justice George Carlson of Batesville, who has served since 2001 and didn’t seek re-election. The candidates are Josiah Dennis Coleman of Toccopola and Richard “Flip” Phillips of Batesville. Finance reports filed last week show Phillips has raised $244,356 this year to Coleman’s $182,329.

____

Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus