Republican state Sen. Alan Nunnelee of Tupelo won the right Tuesday to take on incumbent U.S. Rep. Travis Childers of Booneville in November.
But opponent Henry Ross of Eupora refused to concede the race, while the third candidate, Angela McGlowan of Oxford, said she isn’t ready to endorse Nunnelee.
Nunnelee led the returns all night and held enough of a lead through the late evening to end speculation that a runoff might be necessary to settle the party nomination for Mississippi’s 1st Congressional District.
“This is not a campaign for one man in office,” Nunnelee told cheering supporters gathered at the Hilton Garden Inn in Tupelo. “This is a crusade to save America.”
With only Clay County not reporting, Nunnelee had 19,365 votes, or 52 percent. Ross was in second place with 12,277, or 33 percent, and McGlowan had 5,740, or 15 percent.
Had no one received 50 percent plus one of the vote, a runoff June 22 would have been required.
Late Tuesday night, McGlowan said she will vote for Nunnelee but won’t endorse him unless he changes from being what she termed a “career politician.”
Ross did not concede the race. “We think it’s too close to call,” he said, “and we’ll review the results before making any announcements.”
Throughout the campaign, he criticized Nunnelee as lacking the courage to fight for conservative changes in Washington.
Nunnelee scored strong results in Lee County – his home county where he got 64 percent of the vote – and in populous Lowndes and Lafayette counties. He led the ballot in 20 of the district’s 24 counties.
But Ross kept it close in several counties, including populous DeSoto County, where voting rolls have swelled in the past five years as conservative Memphians escaped to the suburbs. He also won in Marshall, Chickasaw and his home county of Webster.
While nearly one-fifth of McGlowan’s total votes came from Lee County, her largest vote percentage came in her home Lafayette County with 36 percent.
About 11 p.m., results were in from every county except Clay, which wasn’t reporting any totals.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen there,” Ross said.
At his victory party, Nunnelee thanked his family, supporters and campaign staff. He also acknowledged his opponents, saying each had stuck to the issues and made good points. He asked for their supporters’ help to win the general election against Childers and seven other independent or minor party candidates.
After Nunnelee had been declared the winner, Childers issued a statement saying that “my focus remains on creating jobs and uplifting local economies in north Mississippi, and today’s election results won’t change that.”
Some 38,000 voters turned out Tuesday to choose a Republican nominee to challenge Democrat Childers, who won the 1st Congressional District seat in a special election and then a general election two years ago.
Childers replaced Roger Wicker of Tupelo, who was appointed to the U.S. Senate late in 2007 when longtime Sen. Trent Lott of Pascagoula announced his retirement.
Since Childers’ win, national and Mississippi Republicans have strategized how to take it back, and Nunnelee was considered the favorite of party leaders, an issue Ross and McGlowan attempted to use to their advantage in the current anti-incumbent environment.
Low turnout reported
Only the GOP primary was on Tuesday’s ballot across the north Mississippi district.
Turnout was light, GOP pollworkers reported throughout Tuesday. In the end some 6,000 fewer votes were cast than for the GOP primary in 2008.
Ross field director Jeppie Barbour said recently that while his camp hoped to win the primary outright, a more realistic goal was to force frontrunner Nunnelee into a runoff.
McGlowan reacted to the vote results by saying, “Even though the votes didn’t come in the way we would have liked, I can sleep tonight knowing I did everything I could.”
About 21⁄2 hours before the polls closed, McGlowan won the endorsement of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee.
“Mississippi – please vote!” said a Twitter post by Palin. “My family & I are rooting for Angela McGlowan; race may go to a run-off election, but hopefully Angela wraps it up today.”
McGlowan said she’s reserving judgment on Nunnelee.
“Right now, it looks like Alan is going to take the nomination. I will vote for Alan, but I will not endorse him, because he’s a RINO (Republican in name only) Republican, and he has raised folks’ taxes, and I think he would run amok in Washington, D.C., the same as any other incumbent politician. I pray Alan changes, and if he does, I’ll support him.”
Two years ago in a hotly contested Republican primary, some 44,429 votes were cast compared with 98,825 on the Democratic side.
In that three-way GOP race, former Tupelo mayor Glenn L. McCullough Jr. led with 17,333 votes or 39 percent. Southaven Mayor Greg Davis was a close second with 16,338 or 36.8 percent, and Oxford physician Randy Russell took 10,758 or 24.2 percent.
Davis narrowly won the runoff three weeks later with 16,969 votes or 50.9 percent compared to McCullough’s 16,384 or 49.1 percent.
Political observers say the bad feelings built up in the Tupelo area against Davis during that 2008 campaign turned to Childers’ advantage in a special election runoff May 13 and again in November, when a sizable number of eastern-district Republicans gave Childers and the Democrats the election.
As recently as a few weeks ago, state GOP Chairman Brad White was in Chickasaw County to remind the region’s Republicans about the importance of unity, whoever won the primary.
Nunnelee, chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, has long been regarded the favorite of the state GOP leadership, including Gov. Haley Barbour, although Barbour’s brother, Jeppie, has been running Ross’ campaign.
National political forecasts term the November outcome a “toss-up” at this stage.
A Nunnelee win in November would make Tupelo the home of both a U.S. senator and a House member.
Daily Journal reporters Emily Le Coz and Errol Castens contributed to this report.
>> Click here for election results from Tuesday. <<
Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal