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Voters pull hammer for incumbents, hunting and fishing

politicsACROSS MISSISSIPPI — Voters yesterday re-elected Republican Sen. Thad Cochran and all four incumbent congressmen.

Cochran, 76, said he intends to serve the entire six-year term. With Republicans taking over the Senate, he could become a committee chairman. He is a former Appropriations chairman, and has steered billions of dollars to the state for hurricane recovery, university research and other projects.

Cochran won a seventh term by defeating Democratic former U.S. Rep. Travis Childers and the Reform Party’s Shawn O’Hara. The general election was tame compared to a hard-fought Republican primary in which Cochran was challenged by a tea party-backed state lawmaker who refused to concede after losing.

“As we all know, it’s been a long and interesting campaign. I’m glad it’s over, and I know you are, too,” Cochran told supporters last night at his victory party in Jackson, where he was joined by Gov. Phil Bryant and other Republicans.

All four of Mississippi’s U.S. House members defeated challengers who ran low-budget campaigns.

Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson was first elected in 1993 in the 2nd District, which encompasses the Delta and most of the capital city of Jackson. Republican Rep. Gregg Harper won the central 3rd District seat in 2008. Republican Reps. Alan Nunnelee in the northern 1st District and Steven Palazzo in the southern 4th District were elected in 2010.

Childers, who served in Congress from mid-2008 until he was defeated by a Republican in 2010, was outspent by Cochran and overshadowed by the Republican primary.

“While we may have lost this election, we will never give up on the state of Mississippi,” Childers told supporters last night in Tupelo.

Cochran was first elected to the U.S. House in 1972 and won his first six-year term in the Senate in 1978. He waited until late last year to announce he was seeking re-election, weeks after state Sen. Chris McDaniel had entered the race and lined up financial support from groups that sought to unseat longtime Republicans.

McDaniel led Cochran and one other Republican candidate in the June 3 primary. But Cochran rallied and defeated McDaniel by 7,667 votes in a runoff three weeks later.

McDaniel filed a lawsuit claiming the runoff results were tainted by voting irregularities. A circuit judge dismissed the lawsuit, saying it was filed too late. The state Supreme Court upheld the dismissal on Oct. 24.

Some Mississippi voters said they had moved past the bitter Republican primary and were ready to send Cochran back to Washington. Others said it was time to give someone else a chance.

Bryon Rushing, 51, of Forest, said he voted for Childers — the first time he had voted for a Democrat. Rushing, who’s self-employed, said he backed McDaniel in the Republican primary.

“This country has to get back to the root conservative principles, but I could not vote for Thad Cochran,” Rushing said after voting at the Scott County Courthouse. “I didn’t like the way he turned to Democrats to take the GOP runoff.”

Susan Ross, 62, of Madison, manager of a medical office, said she voted for Cochran because she’s unhappy with the direction of the country under President Barack Obama. She said she is particularly dissatisfied with the health overhaul that Obama signed into law in 2010.

“I really think we’re headed toward a socialistic problem,” Ross said after voting at First Presbyterian Church in Madison.

Sherrita Bryant, 25, of Jackson, who works at the Nissan plant in Canton, voted for Childers because she was raised in a family of Democrats. Bryant said she believes the Senate is dominated by people who only care about the wealthy.

“The people need to have a voice,” said Bryant, who voted at Faith Presbyterian Church in Jackson.

In a separate item, Mississippians voted to enshrine hunting and fishing rights in the state constitution. The issue was placed on the ballot at the urging of hunting groups and lawmakers concerned about animal rights groups’ campaigns in other parts of the country against hunting game. Animal rights groups said there is no assault underway on hunting and fishing, but some sportsmen and lawmakers weren’t convinced.

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