By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Northeast Mississippi voters will hit the polls Tuesday to elect candidates to three federal and one state government office.
On the ballot are contested races for president, U.S. senator, 1st District U.S. congressman, and Northern District Mississippi Supreme Court justice.
Some residents might see other local races on the ballot, as well, such as school board members and election commissioners.
Polls open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. across the region. Residents unsure of their polling location can contact their county’s circuit clerk or the Mississippi Secretary of State’s office for assistance.
Turnout is expected to be lower than usual presidential years based on lackluster absentee ballot returns. Roughly 4 percent of registered voters had returned ballots as of Friday, according to the Secretary of State’s office.
That’s compared to more than 7 percent last year and nearly 10 percent in the previous presidential election four years ago.
“Absentee voting is typically a pretty good indicator of voter turnout on Election Day,” said Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann.
Topping the ballot will be candidates for president, including Democratic incumbent Barack Obama with running mate Joe Biden, and Republican challenger Mitt Romney with his running mate Paul Ryan.
National polls show the two camps in a tight heat as candidates make last-minute campaign stops to woo undecided voters.
Mississippi, among the reddest states in the nation, is expected to pick Romney by a large margin.
Recent history supports that prediction: Fifty-six percent of Mississippi voters picked GOP presidential candidate John McCain over Obama four years ago; nearly 60 percent selected incumbent President George W. Bush over Democratic challenger John Kerry in 2004.
Four other presidential hopefuls also appear on this year’s ballot: Virgil Goode of the Constitution Party, Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party, Jill Stein of the Green Party, and Barbara Dale Washer for the Reform Party.
Tupelo resident and GOP incumbent U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker faces Democratic challenger Albert N. Gore Jr. of Starkville.
Although Wicker is heavily favored to win the race, he has been stumping across the state and just launched a costly television advertising campaign to saturate the airwaves in anticipation of Tuesday’s vote.
The Tupelo native, who is finishing an abbreviated four-year Senate term he won in a special election, has raised some $3.1 million so far.
Gore, a retired U.S. Army chaplain and Methodist m i n i s t e r f r o m Starkville, is s p e n d i n g his own money on a grassroots c a m p a i g n that relies more on word of mouth than mailers and TV ads.
Whoever wins will become one of two U.S. senators representing Mississippi for a six-year term in Washington.
Also on the ballot is Shawn O’Hara of the Reform Party and Thomas Everett Cramer of the Constitution Party.
In the 1st District congressional race, Republican incumbent Rep. Alan Nunnelee is challenged by Democrat Brad Morris.
Nunnelee of Tupelo successfully fended off two GOP opponents in the primary before his match-up against Morris of Oxford.
The former state senator and businessman stands solidly with the national Rep u b l i c a n agenda and its message of fiscal responsibility above all else.
Morris is the former c a m p a i g n m a n a g e r and chief of staff for Dem o c r a t i c U.S. Rep. T r a v i s Childers, whom Nunnelee defeated two years ago. Now Morris wants a shot at his boss’s old job and presents a campaign message of good schools, good jobs and reliable government safety nets for those who have earned them.
Finishing his first term, Nunnelee has raised more than $1.6 million in campaign contributions versus Morris’ $73,692. Also running in the 1st Congressional District U.S. House race are Danny Bedwell of the Libertarian Party, Jimmie Ray Bourland of the Constitution Party and Chris Potts of the Reform Party.
U.S. representatives serve two-year terms.
This region escaped the barrage of negative presidential campaign ads pelting swing states like Ohio, but it got a good dose of it from Northern District state Supreme Court candidates Flip Phillips and Josiah Coleman.
Both are vying for the seat being vacated when Justice George Carlson retires at year’s end.
Political action committee ads designed to aid Coleman call Phillips a “greedy trial lawyer” whose court wins have cost the state jobs and raised insurance premiums.
Phillips’ ads tout his 40 years of experience compared to Coleman’s comparative inexperience in court. It also urges voters not to “let special interests buy our court.”
Coleman has raised $252,047 in campaign money versus Phillips’s $415,031, according to the latest campaign finance reports. Whoever wins the race will serve an eight-year term.