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Republicans Battle Today For 2 Open Seats In MS

Two open seats making up half of the House delegation in Mississippi are up for grabs today, as the Republican primary winners in the 1st and 3rd Congressional Districts are likely to win the seat in November.

Republican Roger Wicker was appointed to the Senate at the end of 2007 to fill the seat left vacant by the retiring Senator Trent Lott. Wicker's Senate leap has opened up a competitive primary for his 1st District House seat, which Republicans are heavily favored to maintain. Rep. Chip Pickering announced in August he would be stepping down from his 3rd District post at the end of his term, bringing on a large group of candidates vying for a rarely open House seat. President Bush won more than 60 percent of the vote in both districts in 2004, and neither Wicker nor Pickering ever won less than that amount during their tenures.

In the 1st, Southaven Mayor Greg Davis and former Tupelo Mayor Glenn McCullough have both spent large sums of money, much of it on television ads attacking one another. A recent Davis ad accuses McCullough of being fiscally irresponsible while serving as chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority, the largest public power company in the country. McCullough was appointed to TVA in 1999 by President Clinton, and served as chairman from 2001-2005. One of McCullough's ads attempts to make the case that he is the only conservative candidate, noting that Davis, a former state House member in the 1990s, ran as an independent.

The 1st District stretches across the entire northern border of the state, and reaches from the Memphis metropolitan area in the northwest to the city of Columbus on the eastern edge of the state. Davis hails from DeSoto County in the Memphis metro area, where Southaven lies just across the Tennessee border from the city. DeSoto is the third largest county in the state and makes up about a fifth of the district's population. McCullough is from Lee County, known as the birthplace of Elvis Presley. Lee has about half the population of DeSoto.

There is a third Republican, ophthalmologist Randy Russell, in the race, making the need for a runoff election more likely. If no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote, a runoff will be held April 1 between the two candidates who received the most primary votes. Also, a special election to fill the remainder of Wicker's term will be held April 22. All three Republicans have filed for that election as well. The winner of the Republican primary will take on one of five Democrats vying for the nomination, though only one, Travis Childers, has reported raising any money.

In the 3rd District, where Pickering held office since 1996, the Republican primary is almost assured of going to a runoff, with four of the seven candidates on the ballot having spent at least $100,000. David Landrum, a wealthy businessman, has spent the most money by far. Through the final FEC reporting date, which was more than two weeks ago, Landrum had already spent $850,000 -- more than twice that of any other candidate. About half of the more than $1 million he has raised has come out of his own pocket, including $75,000 in the last few days.

Landrum has been attacked recently by his opponents for allegedly not voting in the last seven years -- though he argues otherwise -- and for a campaign donation he made to former Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove in his 2003 re-election bid against now-Gov. Haley Barbour.

The other leading Republicans include former State Senator Charlie Ross, who lost a bid for Lieutenant Governor in the 2007 Republican primary; John Rounsaville, a former aide to both Pickering and Barbour; and attorney Gregg Harper. All of the candidates have stated the similar goal of carrying on the conservative principles and voting record of Pickering. The winner of the primary or April 1 runoff will take on one of two Democrats, neither of which has filed campaign finance reports with the FEC.

The 3rd District looks like a forward slash, starting in the southwestern corner of the state and spreading northeast to the Alabama border. It includes at least parts of 25 counties, including the suburbs of Jackson.

--Kyle Trygstad