Mississippi Voters May Face Multiple Ballots

Posted December 11, 2007 at 6:43pm

Just when things were starting to settle down in Mississippi’s 3rd district race to replace retiring Rep. Chip Pickering (R), Sen. Trent Lott (R) went and announced his plans to resign.

Now a fairly normal open-seat race has the potential to turn into an unusual confluence of electoral events, where a candidate could be asking voters for their support on as many as five different ballots in a span of eight months.

Here’s how.

It is widely believed that Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) will select either Pickering or fellow Magnolia State Rep. Roger Wicker (R) to fill Lott’s Senate seat until November, when Barbour has said he will schedule a special election to fill the seat for the remaining four years of Lott’s term.

If Barbour were to pick either Congressman to fill the Senate seat then state election laws require that an open special election be held to fill the House seat.

Now here’s where it gets interesting: State officials are saying that an open special election would then be scheduled for March 11, the same day as the party primaries for the 2008 general election.

Which means candidates would be asking voters for two votes on the same day; one to fill the Congressional seat for eight months and another to be the party’s nominee in the November general.

Or, to further complicate the situation, it’s possible that the person who wins the special election may not be on the ballot as their party’s nominee for the general election.

In addition, both the party primary election and open general election have the potential of requiring a runoff, either or both of which would then take place in April. So that’s two ballots in March, possibly two more runoffs in April and a general election in November — a busy year for any candidate.

And that’s all assuming the picture isn’t further complicated by state Democrats tying Barbour’s Senate special election plan up in Mississippi courts, which some state insiders admit is a distinct possibility because the two sides disagree on their interpretations of state election laws.

For political junkies, the same-day general and primary election scenario is perhaps more intriguing if Pickering is selected for the Senate post simply because no one has been so bold as to announce they are seeking Wicker’s seat. Meanwhile, the race to replace Pickering has been under way since the Congressman announced in August that he planned to retire at the end of his term. (And being chosen for the Senate seat could put Pickering in a tricky position, message-wise, because he said he was leaving Congress in order to spend more time with his family.)

In Pickering’s safely red district, a slew of Republican names were mentioned throughout the fall for the party’s nomination but the GOP field had settled to four candidates around the time Lott announced his resignation plans in late November. They include businessman David Landrum, state Sen. Charlie Ross, attorney and Rankin County GOP Chairman Gregg Harper, and John Rounsaville, a former official with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and one-time aide to both Pickering and Barbour.

Former Rep. Ronnie Shows could be the one Democrat who could make the race interesting if he throws his hat in the ring, but with less than a month until the state’s filing deadline, he has remained quiet about his intentions.

State Republican sources say Ross entered the contest with the highest name recognition, stemming from multiple terms in the state Legislature and his unsuccessful bid for the lieutenant governor’s post this year. Ross himself has pushed his own polling data from October, which showed that three-quarters of district voters have heard of him.

But Landrum also is considered a formidable challenger. Although independently wealthy, Landrum has shown a knack for fundraising and said Tuesday that since early November his campaign has raised more than $400,000. Landrum went on air last week in the Jackson media market with the first television ad buy of the campaign and will be on the air in Meridian starting today.

But all the candidates might soon be spending more time and money than they originally planned on voter education efforts if March 11 becomes a double-election day.

Rounsaville “does get a lot of questions about this because he is a former aide to Congressman Pickering and a former aide to Gov. Barbour,” spokesman Danny O’Driscoll said. “People are waiting to see first when [Lott] will resign and who the governor will choose to fill the term. I think things will become a lot clearer once we find out those two things and we’ll be able to start looking ahead in terms of how to explain this to voters.”

Landrum said Tuesday that “what I’m telling people is that either way I’ve got an election coming up in March so we’re just running to win. … I’m going to just do my best and let God sort it out.”