OUR OPINION: Competitive races good for voters

By NEMS Daily Journal

Yet another round of elections is on its way. This time, it’s congressional races, and voters will have a wide variety of options.
The seats occupied by Republican Sen. Roger Wicker of Tupelo and 1st District U.S. Rep. Alan Nunnelee, also a Tupelo Republican, are up for grabs this year. Both incumbents will have Republican primary challengers and, if they earn their party’s nomination, Democratic opposition in the fall.
Wicker faces E. Allen Hathcock of Stewart and Robert Maloney of Madison in the primary. Democratic candidates are Albert N. Gore Jr. of Starkville, Dr. Roger Weiner of Clarksdale and Will Oatis of Silver Creek.
Nunnelee faces Republican challengers Robert Estes of Southaven and Henry Ross of Eupora. Brad Morris of Oxford, chief of staff to former Congressman Travis Childers who was ousted by Nunnelee in 2010, is running as a Democrat. Libertarian Danny Bedwell of Columbus is also in the race.
There should be a candidate for most political tastes in both races.
It’s a rare phenomenon in Mississippi for Republican Washington incumbents to be challenged in their own party, but that development in the Senate and House races reflects the GOP’s transition from struggling for parity to being the dominant party in the state. No longer is the party as tightly controlled as it was when it was smaller, and that means a more open and competitive process within the party.
It’s no secret that both Nunnelee and Wicker have been criticized by some Tea Party-oriented factions for not meeting their standard of conservatism, and it appears that the incumbents’ primary opposition is being fueled at least in part by that sentiment. It’s striking testimony to how the political landscape has shifted so significantly in the last two or three years. Characterizations of Nunnelee or Wicker as insufficiently conservative would have been unthinkable not long ago.
But new perspectives and challenges make for interesting politics and ultimately a more vibrant political system.
The Democratic candidates, meanwhile, will face an uphill battle, even though the 1st District had a Democratic congressman for a brief period. Yet Morris, given his background and contacts, will be a serious if underdog challenger to Nunnelee or whoever wins the GOP primary.
The March 13 primary, coming only two months after last Friday’s qualifying deadline, will mean a relatively compressed campaign. Then there will be a long lag before the Nov. 6 general election.
The incumbents no doubt would prefer a less competitive campaign season, but the competition will be good for the voters and, ultimately, for the system as well.