Mississippi primaries hone lists of federal candidates

By Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press

JACKSON — Mississippi voters are choosing nominees for all four U.S. House seats and one Senate seat, and Republicans are helping select a nominee to face President Barack Obama.

Early reports from the secretary of state’s office were that voting was light across much of Mississippi. There were some glitches reported such as precincts opening late and no GOP precinct open in one area but those problems were resolved later in the morning. Polls close at 7 p.m.

Presidential candidates Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum have made multiple campaign stops in Mississippi during the past several days. The state has 40 Republican delegates.

At the Madison United Methodist Church precinct, John Powell of Madison said he was “just looking for change” so he voted for Romney. But he said he wasn’t thrilled with his choices.

“I wasn’t really jumping for joy,” he said. “I like his (Romney’s) views a little more than the other candidates.”

Noah Toles of Madison said he voted for Ron Paul.

“He’s running under the Republican card but he’s really more Libertarian which falls more closely to my views,” Toles said.

Others had a different motive.

At a precinct at a library in Jackson, James Cooper, who said will vote for Obama in November, said he had voted for Santorum in an effort to weaken Romney.

“I want to keep the insanity going,” Cooper said. “It feels kinda dirty to vote for Santorum, but you have to play the game.”

Besides the nominee, several congressional seats are on the ballot.

Longtime Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson of Bolton is challenged by former Greenville Mayor Heather McTeer in the 2nd District, which stretches along the Mississippi River, through the Delta and into Jackson. Freshman Republican Reps. Alan Nunnelee of Tupelo in the northern 1st District and Steven Palazzo of Biloxi in the southern 4th District face challengers from the tea-party portion of the GOP.

Republican Rep. Gregg Harper of Pearl faces one low-budget challenger in the central 3rd District.

In the Senate race, Republican Roger Wicker faces two challengers in his primary.

But the presidential nomination was on many minds.

Nancy Cheney of Jackson said voted for Gingrich because of his political views and experience in Washington.

“His personal life is a mess,” Cheney said. “You can’t deny his knowledge, his ability to work in the system. He kind of reminds me of Haley Barbour.”

Cheney said Gingrich was “the best of what’s being offered.”

“The Republican primary is getting tiresome. The discourse has gotten ridiculous,” she said.

Mark Wrighton, a political scientist and associate dean for undergraduate programs and assessment at the University of Southern Mississippi, said Romney can be satisfied with second- or third-place finishes in Mississippi and Alabama.

“We’re going to be asking ourselves … did Sen. Santorum jump over the bar high enough? Did Speaker Gingrich jump over his bar high enough?” Wrighton said. “It’s all about the expectations game.”

In 2010, Palazzo and Nunnelee both had tea party support as they campaigned on pushing Democrat Nancy Pelosi of California out of the House speakership. Each defeated a fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrat. Palazzo unseated Democratic Rep. Gene Taylor of Bay St. Louis, who had been in the House since 1989. Nunnelee defeated Democrat Travis Childers, who’d held the seat since a mid-2008 special election.

Former Eupora Mayor Henry Ross and Southaven resident Robert Estes are both courting tea party voters in the 1st District. Ross lost to Nunnelee in the Republican primary two years ago. The winner of the Republican primary advances to the November election to face Democrat Brad Morris of Oxford, Libertarian Danny Bedwell of Columbus, the Constitution Party’s Jim R. Bourland and the Reform Party’s Chris Potts.

Hattiesburg residents Ron Vincent and Cindy Burleson are challenging Palazzo. The 4th District Democratic primary is between Michael Herrington of Hattiesburg and Jason Vitosky of Gulfport. Libertarian Ron Williams and the Reform Party’s Robert W. Claunch will be on the Nov. 4 ballot.

Thompson was first elected in 1993 to represent the 2nd District. McTeer recently completed two terms as mayor of Greenville. The Democratic nominee advances to the November general election to face Republican Bill Marcy of Vicksburg and independent Cobby Mondale Williams of Canton.

Harper was first elected in the 3rd District in 2008. He faces one primary challenger, Robert Allen of Sturgis. In November, the Republican nominee will face Democrat Crystal Biggs of Florence.

In the Senate race, Republican incumbent Roger Wicker of Tupelo faces two GOP primary opponents, E. Allen Hathcock of Stewart and Robert Maloney of Madison. Wicker was appointed to the Senate in December 2007 by then-Gov. Haley Barbour, after Trent Lott stepped down. That appointment gave Wicker almost a year in the Senate before a special election to fill the final four years of the six-year term Lott started. Wicker defeated Democratic former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove in the 2008 special election.

The three people seeking the Democratic nomination for Senate this year are Albert N. Gore Jr. of Starkville, Will Oatis of Silver Creek and Roger Weiner of Clarksdale. The Reform Party’s Shawn O’Hara and the Constitution Party’s Thomas Cramer Party will be on the November ballot.

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Associated Press writers Laura Tillman and Jeff Amy contributed to this report.