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2 tight congressional races drive Miss. voting

JACKSON — Voting was expected to be brisk Tuesday in two of Mississippi’s four congressional races, with Democratic incumbents facing tough challenges from Republican state lawmakers.

Polls are open statewide from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

In the northern 1st District, Democrat Travis Childers of Booneville is trying to hold onto the U.S. House seat he first won in a May 2008 special election. He faces Republican Alan Nunnelee of Tupelo, who’s been in the state Senate 16 years. Seven independent or third-party candidates also are on the 1st District ballot.

In the southern 4th District, Democrat Gene Taylor of Bay St. Louis has been in Congress since 1989 and is facing Republican Steven Palazzo of Biloxi, who’s been in the state House of Representatives since 2007. One Libertarian and one Reform Party candidate also are running in the 4th.

Mississippi’s two other incumbent congressmen – Democrat Bennie Thompson of Bolton in the 2nd District and Republican Gregg Harper of Pearl in the 3rd – face opponents with significantly less campaign cash and name recognition.

Thompson, in Congress since 1993, faces Republican Bill Marcy of Vicksburg, and one Reform Party candidate. Harper, first elected in 2008, faces Democrat Joel Gill of Pickens and one Reform Party candidate.

Several north Mississippi election officials said Monday they’re seeing a higher than usual number of absentee ballots. Many attributed that to voters’ intense interest in a tight 1st District race between Childers and Nunnelee.

In DeSoto County, the most heavily populated county in the 1st District, Deputy Circuit Clerk Marla Treadway said 1,594 absentee ballots were cast. She said 399 were cast in the 2006 congressional midterm election.

In Nunnelee’s home of Lee County, Circuit Clerk Joyce Loftin said there were between 1,000 and 1,100 absentee ballots cast.

“I think it is because of interest in the congressional race and the fact that we have a special election (for constable), one contested circuit judge’s and Court of Appeals,” Loftin said.

In Childers’ home of Prentiss County, officials said 438 absentee ballots were cast – higher than usual for a midterm, but significantly fewer than the roughly 800 in the 2008 presidential race.

Childers and Taylor are both fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats in districts that voted for Republican John McCain in the 2008 presidential race. Their opponents accused them of putting Washington politics ahead of their home districts.

Childers and Taylor portray themselves as independent-minded lawmakers who are willing to vote against their own party’s leadership on divisive issues such as the national health care overhaul.

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