By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Incumbent U.S. Rep. Alan Nunnelee easily won Tuesday’s congressional primary, ousting two opponents and securing his slot in November’s general election.
With 98 percent of the precincts reporting in the 1st District, the freshman Republican from Tupelo led with 57 percent of the vote, while challenger Henry Ross of Eupora had 29 percent Robert Estes of Southaven 14 percent.
“This really was a team effort,” said Nunnelee during his election party at the BancorpSouth Arena where some 65 supporters gathered. “Tonight we celebrate victory, tomorrow we start to work on the fall.”
The 53-year-old will face several opponents in the general election: Democrat Brad Morris of Oxford, Constitution Party representative Jim R. Bourland of Columbus, Libertarian Danny Bedwell of Columbus and Reform Party representative Chris Potts.
Morris, who was unopposed for the Democratic nomination, is an attorney and former chief of staff for the man Nunnelee ousted from office two years ago, then-U.S. Rep. Travis Childers, D-Miss.
“I think the votes reflected he’s an incumbent,” Morris said. “I was prepared for whoever came out of that primary. It won’t impact my race.”
Nunnelee’s win caps two months of intense campaigning by his GOP primary opponents. Ross and Estes traveled the district to stump at numerous events and shake hands with voters. They also peppered communities with campaign signs and push cards, but in the end it wasn’t enough to shake the incumbent.
Ross didn’t immediately return messages for comment. He had spent almost $40,000 in the race as of Feb. 22, according to the latest campaign finance report filed with the Federal Election Commission.
That’s compared to Nunnelee’s $687,000 in expenditures this election cycle, according to the FEC.
It was the second run for the seat for Ross, the former Eupora mayor. He’d lost to Nunnelee two years ago and hoped for a runoff this time, if not a win. Ross hammered Nunnelee on his congressional voting record, calling the incumbent a moderate who squandered his first term in Washington while pandering to party leadership.
Estes entered politics for the first time in this race. He largely ignored his opponents and concentrated instead on his message of reduced taxes, rules and regulations. It’s unclear how much the private business owner spent in the campaign; his report wasn’t available on the FEC website.
“The sun will rise again tomorrow,” Estes said. “We will continue to try to move forward and thanks to my supporters, my family and my team and congratulations to Alan.”
He hinted he might run again in two years.
Although Nunnelee remained largely absent from the campaign trail during the primary season – skipping forums and a debate – his supporters rallied around the cause. They knocked on doors, wrote postcards and stumped for the candidate while he worked in Washington.
His absences raised ire among Tea Party supporters and other Republicans, but it wasn’t enough to shake him.
In the final days before the election, Nunnelee launched a district-wide bus tour and campaigned with GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum in Tupelo. Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, ultimately won Mississippi with overwhelming support from counties in the 1st District.
Nunnelee thanked his supporters and noted higher vote totals in every county compared to his freshman run. He also said his message resonated with constituents.
“I have always believed that a candidate should tell people what he or she stands for, and not why the other candidate shouldn’t be elected,” he said, clearly referencing Ross’ campaign tactic.
Nunnelee also said he welcomes the support of those who voted for his opponents.
OTHER HOUSE RACES
Each of Mississippi’s other three U.S. House incumbents easily won their party’s nomination.
Republican Steven Palazzo in south Mississippi’s 4th District, who like Nunnelee defeated an incumbent Democrat in 2010, took 73 percent of the vote in defeating two Tea Party-inspired opponents. He’ll face Democrat Michael Herrington, who won his primary Tuesday, along with Libertarian Ron Williams and Reform Party candidate Robert Claunch in the fall.
Incumbent Republican Gregg Harper of Rankin County got 92 percent of the vote to win his primary and faces Democrat Crystal Biggs and Luke Pannell of the Reform Party in the general election.
The state’s lone Democratic congressman – Bennie Thompson of the Delta-dominated 2nd District – received 87 percent of the vote against a primary opponent. He’ll be challenged in November by Republican Bill Marcy, independent Cobby Williams and Lajena Williams of the Reform Party.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.