Mississippi’s First and Third Congressional Districts held runoffs to fill open seats April 1, and each ended with a political heavyweight being knocked out by a newcomer.
In the Third District, which stretches from Meridian southwest to McComb, Pearl attorney Gregg Harper, whose political experience before now had been as head of the Rankin County Republican Committee, steamrolled former state Sen. Charlie Ross, whose high approval rating with conservative interest groups and body of work in the Legislature did little to sway voters.
The final tally had Harper earning 57% of the vote, a veritable whipping in election numbers.
Harper will face Democrat Joel Gill in the November 4 general election to see who will replace the retiring Chip Pickering, R-Flora.
Harper promised to end illegal immigration and restore “good old-fashioned Mississippi values” to Congress. Ross had pointed to his work as a state senator in getting tort reform passed and touted his endorsements from some of Mississippi’s largest and most influential business groups and trade associations. Ross also out fundraised Harper by a margin of 3-1, according to the Federal Election Commission.
Said Ross in a statement: “I am happy with the campaign we have run. We did not leave anything on the field.”
Harper’s win in the runoff almost assures him of being the Third District’s next congressman. With heavily Republican, heavily populated counties like Rankin, Madison and Lauderdale in the fold, political experts agree that a Democrat does not stand much of a chance. Marty Wiseman has said in the past that a Democrat running for office in the district “might as well save his money.” Wiseman said last week that Harper’s victory shows the voting power Rankin County has.
“He’s been carrying water for the Republicans in Rankin County since he was a teenager, and that was the difference,” Wiseman says.
An election that figures to hold a little more suspense is the one in the First District in Northeast Mississippi. That post opened up when Roger Wicker, R-Tupelo, was tabbed to replace Trent Lott in the U.S. Senate.
Prentiss County Chancery Clerk Travis Childers defeated State Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, in one runoff, but the surprise came in the Republican runoff when Southaven Mayor Greg Davis slipped past former Tupelo Mayor and Northeast Mississippi political mainstay Glenn McCullough. Davis got 51% of the vote, edging out McCullough by fewer than 1,000 votes.
Wicker took hold of the district’s seat in the Republican Revolution of 1994, succeeding longtime Democratic congressman Jamie Whitten, and it has been considered a GOP stronghold ever since. But Democrats are hopeful, with Childers twice receiving more votes than any candidate on the ballot, Democrat or Republican.
“The First District is the last bastion of the old Jamie Whitten-TVA Democrats,” Wiseman says. “I’ve said for a long time that a Democrat can win the First District, and people have told me I’m crazy. But the numbers are there.”
“I feel we are seeing history unfold before our eyes in Mississippi,” Childers said in a statement released by his campaign. “There is a strong sense that the time has come for change and that we need to have a new focus on the challenges faced by working people and small businesses in the halls of Congress.”
On his Web site, Davis lists national security, illegal immigration and a simpler tax code and less red tape for businesses as issues he will address if elected.
“Greg Davis is smart as a whip and a tenacious campaigner,” Wiseman says. “If you get into a political tussle with him, you better know that you have a fight on your hands.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at clay.chandler@ msbusiness.com .