JACKSON — Mississippi rarely kicks incumbents out of Congress. On Tuesday, voters defeated two of the state’s four U.S. House members — conservative Blue Dog Democrats caught in a wave of voter discontent with Washington.
Republican Steven Palazzo, a state representative from Biloxi, unseated 21-year Democratic incumbent Gene Taylor of Bay St. Louis in the southern 4th District.
Republican Alan Nunnelee, a state senator from Tupelo, defeated Democratic Rep. Travis Childers of Booneville in the northern 1st District. Childers had held the seat since May 2008.
Mississippi’s other two congressmen — Democrat Bennie Thompson in the Delta-to-Jackson 2nd District and Republican Gregg Harper in the central 3rd — were easily re-elected Tuesday.
“I know what motivated you was not just a political campaign. It was your love of our country,” Nunnelee told cheering supporters at a victory party in his hometown of Tupelo.
Taylor and Childers voted against their own party’s leadership on issues such as the federal health overhaul that became law earlier this year. Ultimately, that didn’t matter as Nunnelee and Palazzo ran nearly identical campaigns portraying the two incumbents as beholden to Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California.
In their victory speeches Tuesday night on opposite ends of the state, Nunnelee and Palazzo both said they’ll vote to fire Pelosi. Republicans are retaking the House majority they lost in 2006, and Ohio’s John Boehner is in line to be speaker.
“What we did today is we went to the polls and we voted to repeal the government takeover of health care…. We said no to the liberal, Pelosi-led agenda that is destroying this country,” Palazzo, who’s been in the state House of Representatives since 2007, told cheering supporters at a victory party in Gulfport.
Nunnelee reclaimed a seat the GOP held for 13 years before Childers grabbed it in 2008. Nunnelee told supporters he wants to repeal “Obamacare,” the health care overhaul.
“Tonight, we reclaim our country so that we can pass on to future generations the freedoms and the opportunity that we have inherited from those who came before us,” Nunnelee said.
Nunnelee is a 16-year state senator from Tupelo and chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee.
The 1st and 4th Districts are not easily identified by party labels. Both voted for Republican John McCain in the 2008 presidential race.
Seven independent or third-party candidates also ran in the 1st District, but split only a small portion of the vote. One Libertarian and one Reform Party candidate ran in the 4th.
Gov. Haley Barbour was in Washington on Tuesday night and issued a statement applauding the election of three fellow Republicans to Mississippi’s U.S. House delegation.
“After two years of an unprecedented lurch to the left in Washington, Mississippians today made it clear we don’t like government spending like there’s no tomorrow,” Barbour said.
Thompson attended a victory party with about 2,000 supporters in his hometown of Bolton. In a phone interview, he said he’s grateful to voters and he has accepted that Republicans will take over the House majority and he will lose his chairmanship of the House Homeland Security Committee. He’ll become the committee’s top member of the minority party.
“I’ll be the ranking Democrat and will still have a part in setting policy to keeping Americans safe and making sure that natural disasters are responded to accordingly,” Thompson told The Associated Press. “For that, I will go back in January — I’m still chairman until the end of this session — and continue to work to work for the 2nd District.”
Thompson defeated Republican Bill Marcy of Vicksburg and the Reform Party’s Ashley Norwood of Canton.
Harper of Pearl defeated the same opponent as in 2008, Democrat Joel Gill of Pickens. The Reform Party’s Tracella Lou O’Hara Hill of Hattiesburg also ran this year.
Harper said he wants to return federal spending to “pre-stimulus and pre-bailout levels” and extend tax cuts that are set to expire.
“I think the federal government ought to live within its means,” Harper said.
In the 1st District, Barbara Cowley, a retired insurance adjuster who lives in Smithville, said she voted for Nunnelee because she’s worried about the direction Democrats are taking the country. She worked with Nunnelee in an insurance office several years ago.
Cowley, 66, is covered by Medicare and said she worries the federal health overhaul that became law earlier this year will put Medicare at financial risk.
“This health care program, I think, is just going to ruin older people,” Cowley said Tuesday.
Barbara Lumpkin, 78, a former federal employee who lives in Southaven, said she voted for Childers. “He’s honest and he has integrity,” Lumpkin said.
Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press