Today’s Mississippi Contests Likely to Yield GOP Runoffs

Posted March 10, 2008 at 6:26pm

It may be hard to believe, but more is on the line today in Mississippi’s primary election than a few more delegates in the seemingly never-ending media circus that is the Democratic presidential campaign.

Two safely Republican House districts are in the midst of competitive GOP primary battles, and the winners of both will likely cruise to victory in November. But those winners may not be known until next month as both the 1st and 3rd district races could require runoffs before the nominees are determined.

The eight-way GOP primary to replace retiring Rep. Chip Pickering (R) in the 3rd district appears especially ripe for a runoff. Wealthy businessman David Landrum (R) is the assumed frontrunner after spending more than $545,000 of his own money on the race and building up his name recognition with a strong media presence. He is being chased by three other top-tier candidates including state Sen. Charlie Ross, former Pickering aide John Rounsaville and Rankin County Republican Party Chairman Gregg Harper.

But a late-breaking controversy surrounding Landrum’s voting record — or lack thereof — has tripped up the financial service executive and has cast a shadow over his campaign at exactly the wrong time.

After first being raised by Rounsaville last month, the case of Landrum’s missing voter records reached a boiling point last week when the Clarion-Ledger newspaper found that Landrum’s campaign had falsely claimed it had documentation proving that Landrum voted in the 2003 gubernatorial election. Since then, Landrum has suggested that his voting records might have been tampered with, and his campaign has called for an official investigation into the matter. He has also released a new ad attacking Rounsaville and Ross for “dirty tricks” campaigning.

But the voting issue has irked some big names in the Magnolia State GOP establishment, including Henry Barbour, a Republican National Committeeman from Mississippi and the nephew of popular Gov. Haley Barbour (R).

Last Friday, Henry Barbour circulated an e-mail encouraging Republicans to vote for anyone but Landrum in today’s election.

Although Harper, Ross and Rounsaville all could benefit from the building anti- Landrum sentiment, it’s unclear which of the three is in a stronger position. What GOP insiders do say is that today’s expected low turnout on the Republican side will only serve to hurt Landrum because the party faithful who are more likely to come out will be more in tune with the ongoing controversy. Casual voters, who got to know Landrum only through his strong media campaign, are more likely to stay home.

Democrats in the 3rd district will not need a runoff when they choose between banker Randy Eads and town alderman Joel Gill. But with the district voting almost 2-1 for Republicans in presidential elections, the 3rd is a safe Republican district.

In the 1st district, the GOP primary battle to replace now-Sen. Roger Wicker (R) has been a battle between Southaven Mayor Greg Davis and former Tupelo Mayor Glenn McCullough Jr. The two mayors have spent most their time and efforts focusing on each other rather than the third Republican, ophthalmologist Randy Russell, who has put about $145,000 of his own money into his campaign.

Davis recently released polling numbers from late February that gave him an 18-point edge over McCullough, though that would not be enough to avoid a runoff. Russell was polling in the single digits, according to that survey.

State Rep. Steve Holland and Prentiss County Chancery Clerk Travis Childers appear to be the leading Democrats in the race. But though the 1st is slightly better territory for Democrats than the 3rd, it is still an overwhelmingly Republican district.

Regardless of who wins the nominations in the 1st district for the November general, an all-party special primary is scheduled for April 22 to see who will serve out the rest of Wicker’s term this year.