Vote turnout disappoints leadership of Tea Party

Tuesday’s low voter turnout dismayed DeSoto County’s Don Daniels, one of the region’s Tea Party organizers, but he’s optimistic Republican nominee Alan Nunnelee will win the 1st Congressional District seat in November.
“We’re going to redouble our efforts,” Daniels said Wednesday about his conservative political organization. “It’s not the American thing to do to sit at home on election day.”
Turnout for the GOP primary was 38,435 or about 6,000 votes below the Republican vote for Congress two years ago and nearly 105,000 below the overall 2008 primary day vote, which included a competitive Democratic race and presidential primaries.
There was no Democratic primary this year and the U.S. House race was the only contest on the Republican ballot.
Nunnelee, a state senator from Tupelo, avoided a runoff with 745 votes more than he needed to win the nomination over Henry Ross, a former Eupora mayor, and Angela McGlowan of Oxford, a former Fox News analyst.
Nunnelee’s win earns him the right to face incumbent Democrat U.S. Rep. Travis Childers of Booneville and seven other candidates on the Nov. 2 general election ballot.
But by mid-afternoon Wednesday, Ross still wasn’t ready to concede that he’d lost.
“We’re still looking at the results,” he said. “It’s close enough that we need to look at it all.”
Mathematically, Ross would need to make up at least the 745 votes to claim Nunnelee did not gain enough to win the race outright.
Longtime political observer Dr. Marty Wiseman, director of the Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University, said Tuesday’s low turnout was a surprise.
“I think nobody voted,” he said Wednesday. “The masses were doing something else yesterday.”
He said it appears the Tea Party’s impact was more verbal than actual.
“They apparently have no get-out-the-vote at all,” Wiseman said. “There’s a reason why the Republican and Democratic parties exist – to organize and turn out votes.”
In Lee County, turnout was higher than in the 2008 GOP primary’s 5,523. This year it was 6,487 with Nunnelee taking a strong 4,131, or 64 percent, in his home county.
Across the 1st Congressional District in population-heavy DeSoto County, Republican Party officials said they were shocked and dismayed by the low voter turnout.
Only 7.96 percent of the county’s 84,072 registered voters, or 6,694 votes, were cast in Tuesday’s election, one of the lowest ever. In 2008’s primary, more than 12,000 GOP votes were cast.
“It was pathetic,” DeSoto County Republican Party chairman Kevin Blackwell said late Tuesday. “I’m not sure if it was the holiday, the heat or apathy. I went by every precinct and turnout was low.”
Clay County’s returns weren’t reported until Wednesday, but they didn’t change the 24-county outcome.
The race also is under the microscope of the national political media.
CQ-Roll Call, based in Washington, D.C., says Childers enters the race with the advantage of a full term of incumbency. Childers fought through five votes in 2008 to win the seat vacated when Tupelo’s Republican Roger Wicker was appointed to the U.S. Senate.
“But it seems premature to tag him as politically secure in this conservative and Republican-leaning territory,” CQ’s website analyzes.
The GOP has been strategizing how to retake the seat ever since Childers won it over Southaven Mayor Greg Davis in a campaign frought with a bitter primary that left a bad taste in the mouths of eastern-district Republicans who supported former Tupelo Mayor Glenn McCullough Jr.
That division, coupled with intensely negative national Republican Party advertising directed at Childers later in the race, benefited the Democrat’s candidacy.
By Wednesday morning, the national Democrats weren’t missing a beat on the campaign drum for Childers, saying Nunnelee espouses extreme views.
They also advanced likely campaign themes that Nunnelee’s 16 years in the Mississippi Legislature make him the “career politician” and one who has voted numerous times for budget cuts detrimental to fellow Mississippians.
On the flip side, the National Republican Congressional Committee, which produced those politically biting ads for Davis two years ago, reminded voters Wednesday that Mississippi is home to two of the country’s most Republican-leaning districts held by Democrats – the 1st District and south Mississippi’s 4th, where Gene Taylor is the incumbent.
“As Mississippians continue to see their elected Democrat representatives rack up the debt by enabling their radical party leaders,” the NRCC said, “Republicans are poised for a strong showing in the fall.”
Aaron Blake with the Washington Post questioned the Tea Party’s effectiveness in the 1st Congressional District Race, saying its voters weren’t “able to make much of a dent” against GOP party leadership favorite Nunnelee.
Tupelo Tea Party leader Grant Sowell said that while he respects Nunnelee, his selection by the state party leadership made some Tea Party members “feel disenfranchised.”
“It seems like the party decides it’s going to select this person, and they ignore the others in the race,” he said Wednesday.
Sowell said that hand-selection motivated many Tea Partiers to support Ross and McGlowan.
While Nunnelee garnered some 52 percent of the vote Tuesday, Sowell said that leaves 48 percent who didn’t vote for him.
“He needs to remember that,” Sowell noted.

Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or patsy.brumfield@djournal.com.


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