Santorum, congressional incumbents win primaries

ACROSS MISSISSIPPI — Rick Santorum won Republican presidential primaries in Alabama and Mississippi but he didn’t gain any ground in the race for delegates against frontrunner Mitt Romney.

Romney wiped out Santorum’s gains by winning caucuses in Hawaii and American Samoa Tuesday. For the day, Romney added at least 41 delegates and Santorum won at least 35. Newt Gingrich got at least 24 delegates and Ron Paul got at least 1. Nine delegates were still to be determined.

To date, Romney has won 52 percent of the primary and caucus delegates, while Santorum has won 28 percent and Gingrich has won 14 percent.

At their current pace, Santorum and Gingrich won’t come close to catching Romney, but they could extend the primary battle. At Romney’s current pace, he is on track to reach the 1,144 delegates needed to clinch the nomination this summer.

There were 37 delegates at stake in Mississippi. Santorum won 13 while Romney and Gingrich won 12. Ron Paul won none.

In the congressional races, all incumbents won.

U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker and three House Republicans pledged to cut spending and rein in policies of President Barack Obama.

U.S. Reps Alan Nunnelee, Gregg Harper and Steven Palazzo all won nomination. Like Wicker, they defeated tea party challengers who said incumbents hadn’t done enough to fight Obama.

“Do we want to continue the failed policies of two years ago?” said the 1st district’s Alan Nunnelee, who had the closest race of the incumbents. “Or do we want someone who will go back to Washington and fight to cut spending and repeal Obamacare?”

U.S. Rep Bennie Thompson, Mississippi’s lone congressional Democrat, promised to do more to raise the standing of his district.

All five candidates face foes from the other major party as well as minor party candidates, but all have advantages in money and name recognition.

Albert N. Gore won the Democratic Senate primary to face Wicker, while Michael Herrington won the Democratic primary in the 4th District.

Nunnelee, a first-term representative from Tupelo, won a comfortable majority over Henry Ross of Eupora and Robert Estes of Southaven in north Mississippi’s 1st District.

Both Ross and Estes had criticized Nunnelee, saying he hadn’t done enough to cut federal spending. The 53-year-old Nunnelee said he wanted to do more, but disagreed with claims that he had betrayed his promises or hadn’t been conservative enough. In November, the Republican nominee will face Democrat Brad Morris of Oxford, Libertarian Danny Bedwell of Columbus, Reform Party member Chris Potts and Constitution Party member Jim Bourland.

Nunnelee’s race was less of a walkover than others. Wicker was so secure that he barely campaigned. Friday, when speaking at a Rotarian convention in Jackson, he only indirectly alluded to the fact he was on the ballot. He defeated E. Allen Hathcock of Stewart and Robert Maloney of Madison, barely having to tap his $2.1 million war chest.

“I will continue working to advance conservative principles such as spending restraint and less regulation to solve the problems we face,” Wicker said.

He will face Democrat Albert N. Gore of Starkville, who took a majority in a three-way race, defeating second-place finisher Roger Weiner of Clarksdale and Will Oatis of Silver Creek. Also on November’s Senate general election ballot are Thomas Cramer of the Constitution Party and Shawn O’Hara of the Reform Party.

The Republican congressional primaries in the 4th and 3rd districts, like Wicker’s race, were largely uncompetitive.

U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo, also in his first term, rolled past challengers Ron Vincent and Cindy Burleson, both of Hattiesburg. Palazzo, a 42-year-old Biloxi resident, will face Michael Herrington, who decisively defeated Jason Vitofsky of Gulfport in the Democratic primary. Reform Party member Robert W. Claunch of Diamondhead will also be on the November ballot. Like Nunnelee, he said his general election campaign will be focused on achieving Republican goals that have been largely thwarted so far.

“We’ve got a lot of unfinished business,” Palazzo said.

In central Mississippi’s 3rd District, U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper of Pearl defeated Republican challenger Robert J. Allen, a Starkville tea party activist.

“I think we all have the same goals of reduced spending and balancing the budget,” Harper said.

Harper, 55, will seek a third term in the House in November against Democrat Crystal Biggs of Florence and Reform Party member John “Luke” Pannell.

Mississippi’s lone congressional Democrat, U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson of Bolton, continued to march toward a 10th term. He beat former Greenville Mayor Heather McTeer in the 2nd district, which includes the Delta region and much of the city of Jackson.

Thompson said he believed voters were persuaded by his commitment to constituent service and seniority. In the general election, Thompson will square off against Republican Bill Marcy of Vicksburg, Reform Party member Lajena Williams and independent Cobby Mondale Williams of Canton.

“We’ll continue to talk about economic security, continuing to improve education, not forgetting our veterans and not forgetting the common man,” Thompson said. “I pride myself on doing all I can on behalf of the people I represent. Clearly in the vote totals and other things people, people identify with it.”

Joe Forbes, a 63-year-old retiree voting in north Jackson, said he didn’t want to give up Thompson’s seniority.

“He can do the most good,” Forbes said. “There’s too much to do to start from scratch.”

However, Abby Watson, 34, favored McTeer, saying the majority-black second district is lagging economically.

“Nothing’s really changed here that I can see,” she said. “There’s been no progress in relation to anybody that’s not able to keep up with the Joneses.”

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