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Nunnelee to limit campaigning as he recovers from surgery, stroke

TUPELO — Republican U.S. Rep. Alan Nunnelee is likely to make few campaign appearances in north Mississippi this fall as he recovers from brain surgery and a stroke.

The limited schedule, however, probably won’t jeopardize the chances of a third term for the congressman from Tupelo.

Nunnelee’s Democratic challenger, Ron Dickey of Horn Lake, has never held public office, has raised only $6,000 in campaign cash, is working his way out of bankruptcy and is still trying to shake criticism from Special Forces veterans who say Dickey misrepresented his own military service by falsely claiming to be a “Green Beret Veteran of Desert Storm.”

And there’s this inconvenient fact: The chairman of Mississippi Democratic Party, Rickey Cole, has publicly called on Dickey to drop out of the race. Cole said Dickey, 43, should focus on earning money and getting out of debt.

“You can either be a full-time candidate or you can have a full-time job, but you can’t really do both,” Cole said.

Federal court records show Dickey and his wife filed for bankruptcy on Aug. 17, 2010. In an interview with The Associated Press, Dickey said they have about 12 more payments to make to emerge from the process.

Dickey, 43, said they filed after running into financial problems because of home construction and difficulties with a trucking-industry job he had during the Great Recession that started in 2008.

Dickey said he served in the Army from May 1990 to May 1993 and was assigned for part of that time to work in a food-services support job for a Special Forces group at a South Carolina base. He said while he was not a Green Beret, he had a green beret as part of his uniform in the support job. He said he was not trying to deceive people by listing himself online as a “Green Beret Veteran of Desert Storm.”

“The only thing I basically did was say what I had,” Dickey said, meaning the beret. He also said he did not serve in Iraq during Operation Desert Storm.

Dickey said he received hundreds of calls of complaint after a veterans’ group criticized his description of his military service.

Nunnelee, 55, had surgery June 9 to remove a mass from his brain, and his staff said he has undergone chemotherapy and radiation. He also has been undergoing therapy to deal with speech difficulties and weakness on his left side. Nunnelee recently revealed that he’d had a stroke during the surgery.

“Rather than continually asking the question, ‘why did this happen to me,’ an attitude of thanksgiving allows me to approach the hard work of stroke recovery with resolve and determination,” Nunnelee wrote in an Aug. 10 message that was posted to Facebook and emailed to supporters.

Nunnelee’s campaign consultant, Morgan Baldwin, said the congressman’s main focus now is on recovery rather than campaigning, although he said Nunnelee has always believed “the best-run campaign is a well-run, efficient office.”

Nunnelee served in the state Senate from 1995 until he unseated Democratic U.S. Rep. Travis Childers in 2010. During his final years in the state Capitol, he was chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He now serves on the U.S. House Appropriations Committee.

Mississippi Republican Party chairman Joe Nosef acknowledged that Nunnelee is likely to campaign less than usual, but he said the congressman has good will built up with voters.

“I hope Alan gets to campaign as much as he wants to,” Nosef said. “If he has to scale it back a bit, I don’t think it’s going to hurt him at all.”

Cole said even if Democrats had a well-known and well-funded nominee, it would be a delicate balancing act to campaign against an incumbent who’s working to recover from serious health issues.

“I’m not sure how anybody could run against Alan in his current state because of the sympathy factor,” Cole said.

Dickey said he differs with Nunnelee on issues — Dickey supports an increase in the minimum wage, for example, and legislation that would require equal pay for women and men who have the same jobs. But he wishes the incumbent good health.

“Alan Nunnelee is a tough Mississippian, and he’s loved by a lot of people,” Dickey said. “I hope and pray that he has a speedy recovery.”

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