Brief primary race heads into stretch

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

CANDIDATE PROFILES


Estes touts regular guy credentials


Nunnelee an established Republican


Ross claims he’s the true conservative

TUPELO – A brief primary campaign blitz ends March 13 when voters nominate one of three Republican candidates to represent the 1st Congressional District.
Incumbent U.S. Rep. Alan Nunnelee of Tupelo remains the frontrunner with strong statewide support and a decades-long political career buoying him. But his one-term congressional voting record and absence from recent political events have brought criticism from opponents and some former allies.
Nunnelee’s most formidable challenger, 55-year-old Henry Ross of Eupora, has repeatedly slammed the incumbent’s actions and labeled him weak and inaccessible. Nunnelee and his campaign have denied both charges.
Also throwing darts are the Tupelo Tea Party and some Lee County Republicans, who have made similar accusations against the former state senator and small business owner. The local Tea Party, most notably, ran a series of newspaper ads claiming Nunnelee isn’t conservative enough.
Nunnelee, 53, of Tupelo, ignores the bait. He has tried to remain above the fray during the primary season, circulating around the district without much overt campaigning.
Amid the arrows and deft deflections comes a third candidate from Southaven – an earnest, soft-spoken man on a mission. Small business owner Robert Estes, 38, says he’s driven by his disgust for politics as usual and a desire to go to Washington and make real change.
Unlike his primary opponents, Estes lacks previous political or public experience. He travels the district seeking support for his three-point platform: unnecessary rules, unnecessary regulations and unnecessary taxes. Eliminate them, he says.
It’s the same refrain recited by Ross and Nunnelee, but without the polished rhetoric – or the deeply developed strategies that come with years of service in, or study of, the political system. And Estes has a following, especially among Tea Party conservatives.
Voters not already familiar with these candidates have had two months to get to know them. The qualifying deadline was Jan. 13 and the primary will be March 13.
That’s versus the 2010 congressional primary, which had a March 1 qualifying deadline and June 1 vote. This year’s date was moved up to coincide with Mississippi’s Republican presidential primary.
Both Nunnelee and Ross had fought in the 2010 race, along with fellow Republican hopeful and former Fox News analyst Angela McGlowan of Oxford. Nunnelee bested both opponents and later earned their endorsements as he sailed into the general election and won the seat.
Nunnelee ousted then-incumbent U.S. Rep. Travis Childers, a Democrat.
Ross returned this year for a second fight, and Estes traded places with McGlowan to create another three-way race. The only difference is that Nunnelee is running as an incumbent. And history proves incumbents are hard to beat – Childers’ defeat notwithstanding.
In the end, voters will decide whether to give Nunnelee a second chance or shake up the general election by tapping Ross or Estes.
Whoever wins the primary will face two opponents in November: Democrat Brad Morris, an attorney and Childers’ former chief of staff; and Libertarian Danny Bedwell, a Columbus businessman and state chairman of his party.
emily.lecoz@journalinc.com