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RealClearPolitics Politics Nation Blog

 

Blog Home Page --> House -- Mississippi -- 01

Primary Unkind To Two Alabama Congressmen

Two members of Congress in Alabama saw their 2010 campaigns cut short Tuesday: Parker Griffith, after switching parties in December, lost the 5th district Republican primary; and Artur Davis's gubernatorial bid ended in the Democratic primary, well before many expected.

The two members headlined a primary election day in three states -- Alabama, Mississippi and New Mexico -- and continued this year's run of intriguing political storylines.

HOUSE PRIMARIES: Griffith's shocking move to the GOP made his seat even more vulnerable than it was running as a Democrat in the South in a year Republicans feel the wind at their backs. On top of facing a competitive general election -- something he'd have no matter which party he was in -- Griffith's late entry to the Republican primary gave him yet another hurdle to overcome. Madison County Commissioner Mo Brooks won 51 percent to Griffith's 33 percent.

The freshman also was running against history, as the 5th district has never elected a Republican to the House, despite voting solidly Republican at the presidential level. Former Senate aide Steve Raby will attempt to keep that streak alive when he faces Brooks in the general election.

Elsewhere, the National Republican Congressional Committee got its guy in Mississippi's 1st district, as state Sen. Alan Nunnelee squeaked out a primary victory with 52 percent of the vote, avoiding a runoff against second-place finisher Henry Ross. Former FOX commentator, Angela McGlowan, who received an endorsement from Sarah Palin, finished third with 16 percent.

Republicans like their chances in this GOP-leaning district, which voted Democrat Travis Childers into office in a May 2008 special election to fill the remainder of Republican Roger Wicker's term. Six months later, Childers was elected to a full term with 54 percent.

The NRCC wasn't so lucky in Alabama's 2nd district, where the highly touted Martha Roby failed to avoid a runoff against tea party-backed Rick Barber, taking 49 percent to Barber's 29 percent. They'll face off again July 13 for the right to take on freshman Democrat Bobby Bright, who won in 2008 by less than 2,000 votes.

Also in play was Alabama's 7th district, which Davis gave up to run for governor. The solidly Democratic district won't know its Democratic nominee for another several weeks, as attorney Terri Sewell and Jefferson County Commissioner Shelia Smoot head for a runoff.

Continue reading "Primary Unkind To Two Alabama Congressmen" »

MS 01: Childers (D) +11

Travis Childers has been a member of Congress for three months, but he's already learned to consolidate his electorate, a new poll for the Mississippi Democrat's campaign shows.

The survey, conducted by Anzalone Liszt for Childers, polled 502 likely voters between 9/7-10 for a margin of error of +/- 4.4%. Childers and Southaven Mayor Greg Davis were tested.

General Election Matchup
Childers......51
Davis.........39

Childers, whose base in Mississippi's First District is in the Tupelo area, defeated Davis, mayor of a suburban Memphis town, by 8 points in the June special election. Republicans have been pessimistic about Davis' chances in a repeat bid, given both his lackluster performance this Summer and the fact that his base is in what they characterize as the wrong part of the district.

Childers is also popular among his new constituents. 55% of district voters see him favorably, while just 24% see him unfavorably. Davis' own ratings are 40% favorable to 32% unfavorable.

Davis has sought to tie Childers to Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and other more liberal national Democrats, but Republicans have not been able to make that charge stick to any of a number of candidates, especially those running in the South, this year. Davis has the advantage of running in a district John McCain is likely to win big, as will Senator Roger Wicker (who vacated the seat to serve in the Senate), but if he can't make the argument tying Childers to the party at large, the results from June may repeat themselves.

Committee Politics

One thing we forgot to mention from our earlier post: Both parties are so serious about winning the special election tomorrow in Mississippi's First District that congressional leaders have promised specific committee assignments to both candidates should they win. The moves could benefit each candidate heading into tomorrow's election.

Democratic candidate Travis Childers will win a seat on the Agriculture Committee, party leaders said last week. The First District has plenty of farms in it, and Childers would be in Washington right as Congress finishes work on the farm bill. That means one of Childers' first opportunities in the House would be to secure money for rural farmers whose votes he would need to stay in office come the 111th Congress.

Meanwhile, GOP sources tell Politico's Patrick O'Connor that should Republican candidate Greg Davis pull out a victory, he'll join members of the Veterans' Affairs Committee when he arrives in Washington. The district has a major Air Force base and much of its population are veterans.

To promise a committee assignment is rare, though not unheard of. Occasionally, congressional leadership will allow a promising candidate on the brink of a win to brag that he or she will be able to sit on a certain committee with local importance to their home districts.

Committees that handle transportation, agriculture, commerce and science are good ways to bring home the bacon. Committees with jurisdiction over the armed services, defense, foreign policy and veterans' issues are great ways to boost credentials. Few freshmen get appointed to top committees like Appropriations, Ways and Means or Rules.

Sometimes, though, party leader promises don't work out. In 2006, Republican Senator Conrad Burns made an issue of the fact that his perch on the Appropriations Committee would help him bring more money back to Montana. Democrats blunted that criticism by promising his opponent, Democrat Jon Tester, a seat on the same panel as soon as possible. Tester won by a very narrow margin, but he still doesn't have his seat.

Clarification: We wrote Tester was promised a seat on the panel. He was promised a seat "as soon as possible," according to news accounts at the time. We regret any confusion.

All GOP Hands In MS

Republicans desperate to notch a win in their belt are calling in all available hands in their battle over a Mississippi House seat that will be awarded in a special election tomorrow. The party, wounded by two special election losses in Illinois and Louisiana, can ill afford another defeat in their own backyard; the Tupelo-based district, which extends west to the Memphis suburbs on the state's northern border, gave President Bush a 25-point margin in 2004.

As a measure of how conservative the seat truly is, Vice President Cheney will hold a rally on behalf of Southaven Mayor Greg Davis tonight. Other top Mississippi Republicans, including Senators Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker (whose old House seat is the one being filled) and Governor Haley Barbour have stumped with Davis for the past several weeks. Cheney gave an interview to a Memphis radio station late last week talking up Davis.

But the party remains concerned that they could lose. Some Republican congressional staffers are heading to the National Republican Congressional Committee offices to make phone calls into the district today, while others have made their way to Mississippi to knock on doors. The NRCC's offices are across the street from the House office buildings. Republican money is flowing into the district as well; recently filed FEC reports show ten state parties, from Washington State to Florida, have contributed the maximum $5,000 to Davis, and dozens of Republican incumbents are also handing over checks.

One big problem Republicans face is that there will be no party designation on the ballot. Casual voters intending to vote Republican will have to know Davis' name instead of being able to simply vote for the Republican candidate. It also works to the advantage of Prentiss County Chancery Clerk Travis Childers, the Democratic candidate who has gone to extraordinary lengths to portray himself as a conservative.

Davis pulled in 46% of the vote in the April 22 first round, while Childers won 49% of the vote, falling just a few hundred votes short of the 50% necessary to avoid a runoff.

Interview With The Candidates

In advance of next week's special elections in Mississippi, candidates Greg Davis and Travis Childers joined Politics Nation Radio, live every Saturday morning on XM Radio's POTUS '08.

Prentiss County Chancery Clerk Travis Childers, the Democratic candidate, is performing well, coming just 400 votes away from avoiding the runoff. But recent attempts to link Childers to Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi may be reaping results. How does he get around being associated with national Democrats?

Southaven Mayor Greg Davis, the Republican candidate, came in three points behind Childers in the April 22 first round. Some national Republicans complain that he's from the wrong part of the district, but he retains a strong chance at winning on Tuesday, especially after Vice President Dick Cheney shows up for him on Monday:

Check out more coverage of Tuesday's special election in Mississippi here.

The Ol' Cheap Gas Trick

Despite the storms and tornadoes plaguing Tupelo, Mississippi today, Prentiss County Chancery Clerk Travis Childers is making three stops around the First District today to offer a few lucky motorists some relief at the gas pump.

Childers, the Democratic candidate in Tuesday's special primary runoff election, plans to pump gas at stations in Grenada, Columbus and Tupelo, charging the first fifty drivers at each location just $1.25 a gallon, for up to 10 gallons of gas. According to a state Democratic Party press release, that was the price of gas on March 5, 1997, "the day Republican Greg Davis voted in the state Legislature to increase the state tax on a barrel of oil produced in Mississippi."

The tactic comes from a Democratic challenger in North Carolina's 8th District, who ran one of the more unique races of 2006. Larry Kissell, who lost by only 329 votes to GOP Rep. Robin Hayes, may be best-remembered for the campaign mascot he brought to events -- a goat he named CAFTA to highlight Hayes's vote in support of the issue. But Kissell also sold gas to voters at $1.22 a gallon, the price when Hayes took office in 1998. The move gave Kissell, who was outspent four-to-one, the kind of media attention he needed, though without the DCCC's help he fell just short of an upset.

Childers finds himself in far better position to win the seat than Kissell in 2006. Despite the Republican tilt of the district, Childers led Davis 49%-46% in the April 22 special primary, but was forced to a runoff because he didn't win more than half the votes. Childers is also enjoying strong support from the DCCC, which sees another great opportunity to pick up a Republican seat before the 2008 elections even take place.

-- Kyle Trygstad

Lowering The MS Boom

Money is certainly not everything in politics. After all, dozens of Republican members who outspent their opponents in 2006 still wound up without a job after losing in November. But when one party has more than six times the cash on hand of another, the disparity can actually matter, and in the special election happening in Mississippi's First Congressional District on Saturday, that disparity is becoming apparent.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had already spent north of $400,000 in the race to replace now-Senator Roger Wicker, but in the last half-week Mississippians will see little else on television except the DCCC's newest advertisement. The committee reported it has purchased $700,000 in advertising in the district, an incredible expenditure that brings the party's total spending on the seat to just over $1.1 million.

According to one media watcher, a single point of television costs $124 in Memphis, on the western end of the district, and $40 in Tupelo, on the eastern side. That means Democrats are on television with more than 4,200 gross rating points, more than double saturation level.

Republicans are on the air with their own advertising, hitting Democratic candidate Travis Childers over his associations with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and potential presidential nominee Barack Obama. The GOP has put about $592,000 into keeping the seat, which gave President Bush a 25-point margin in 2004. Those ads must have been working, as Childers himself put up a response.

Make no mistake, Childers should be considered the front-runner over Southaven Mayor Greg Davis, the GOP nominee. Childers won more votes in the April 22 first round, and Democrats are spending hugely to win over the seat. While Davis still retains a solid opportunity to keep the district in Republican hands, he's being outspent and out-advertised, and as we wrote last week, he's from the wrong part of the district.

Results from Saturday's elections will prove telling either way: On one hand, Republicans could win the seat and prove Democrats still can't win in the Deep South, that they have at least one region in which their wounded party is safe. On the other, Democrats could send a stark message to political analysts and animals everywhere: No GOP district is safe, and when it counts, the DCCC will wade in with the financial equivalent of Thor's hammer.

Sometimes the expectations game gets back to a state of equilibrium, in which a win is a win, no matter the margin. That's the case in Mississippi, given Democrats' financial investment and Republicans' inherent advantage.

Dem Surprises In MS

Prentiss County Chancery Clerk Travis Childers came within 400 votes of winning outright a seat in Congress last night, giving Democrats another shot at picking up a district Republicans have held for a long time, and that gave President Bush a wide margin of victory in 2004. The race to replace Senator Roger Wicker in his old Tupelo-based House seat will now advance to a May 13 runoff between Childers and Southaven Mayor Greg Davis, the Republican.

Childers won 49.4% of the vote, but when combined with the nearly 1,000 votes State Rep. Steve Holland took, Democrats actually won closer to 51% of the vote. Holland and Glenn McCullough, the former Mayor of Tupelo, finished second in their primaries to replace Wicker, and both remained on the ballot in the special election despite going to court to get their names removed from the ballot.

Holland offered a strong endorsement of fellow Democrat Childers, while McCullough's lukewarm support for the Republican ticket as a whole -- he did not offer a specific endorsement to Davis -- came after a contentious GOP primary that was decided by about 500 votes. Republicans are promising to spend more time in Lee County, where Tupelo is based and where Childers won by twenty points. In 2006, Wicker, who is also from Tupelo, won the county with nearly 70%, performing better than he did in the rest of the district. To come back and win, Davis will need a much better result in the district's largest county.

After the National Republican Congressional Committee spent nearly $300,000 on the seat, which Wicker never had a problem keeping, and Democrats spent about $140,000 to aid Childers, the two parties are likely to continue spending both there and in Louisiana's Sixth District, where Democrat Don Cazayoux and Republican Woody Jenkins will face off on May 3.

That the two seats are in play sends what should be a terrifying message to Republicans looking toward the Fall. With more than two dozen GOP members of Congress retiring, the NRCC has seen a silver lining in that many of those seats looked out of reach for Democrats. But if Mississippi and Louisiana provide promising targets for Democratic candidates, so too can open seats all over the country.

Check out our full write-up and analysis of last night's Mississippi special election.

GOP Worried About MS

A week after a poll conducted for Democratic nominee Travis Childers showed him leading his Republican foe by a single point in the runoff to take now-Senator Roger Wicker's old House seat, national Republicans have launched their first television and radio ads in the contest, suggesting the party is at least a little bit worried about their chances in a deeply crimson district.

The television ad slams Childers for conditions in nursing homes his company operates, while the radio spot also accuses Childers of paying his taxes late. "Our leaders should help seniors, not profit from them," the spot says.

The poll last week showed Childers leading Southaven Mayor Greg Davis by a statistically insignificant 41%-40% margin, but it was enough to scare the National Republican Congressional Committee into commissioning a poll from a well-respected Republican firm. The results must be back, and given that the party is up on the air with spots slamming Democrat Childers, the results must have shaken them at least a little bit.

Will Democrats respond with ads of their own? After all, with more than $44 million in the bank, as the DCCC reported yesterday, they have the funds to do so. And with a chance to pick up a House seat in a district where President Bush won by 25 points, how will they resist?

Facing a huge financial deficit, the last thing Republicans need right now is a shoot-out in a special election. But in order to prevent absolute catastrophe, it could prove their only choice.

Parties Spending In Specials

Meeting with reporters earlier this week, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman Chris Van Hollen reemphasized how important a special election win can be to a party committee, a little more than a month after Democrat Bill Foster beat Republican Jim Oberweis in an exurban Chicago district previously held by former Speaker Dennis Hastert. "Illinois 14 did send a political shockwave across the country," Van Hollen said.

Now, Democrats are hoping they can repeat the performance. Sensing another opportunity to steal a seat from Republicans, the DCCC has started spending money in a Louisiana district once held by Republican Richard Baker, buying more than $92,000 in television time for an ad opposing Republican nominee Woody Jenkins. In addition, the party is spending more than $10,000 on literature on behalf of their candidate, State Rep. Don Cazayoux, and for field organizing.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, which had initially suggested that they would not spend significant resources should Jenkins have won the primary, is firing back with a new ad of their own, hitting Cazayoux for what they characterize as a career spend raising taxes. The NRCC bought just over $100,000 for the ad, which slams Cazayoux without mentioning Jenkins.

The district should not be a problem for Republicans, under normal circumstances. President Bush won easily there, twice, and Baker never had a difficult time beating out his Democratic opponents. But an influx of new voters, many refugees from Hurricane Katrina, may have tilted the district enough to the left to be winnable for Democrats. Jenkins makes Cazayoux's job easier, as he's widely considered to be too conservative for an already conservative district.

Republicans may be in for more bad news in the neighboring state, where Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker's former House seat is also up for grabs in a special election later this month. A poll commissioned by Democrat Travis Childers shows him in a statistical dead heat with Republican Greg Davis in a seat that is even more conservative than Baker's Louisiana district.

The poll, Republicans will point out, was conducted by a Democratic firm and for a Democratic candidate. But it's close enough and worrying enough to make Republicans begin to panic. While no party committees have spent money on advertising in the district, new FEC reports show the NRCC paid Republican firm Ayres, McHenry & Associates $12,000 for their own survey of district voters.

If Republicans, already in a financial hole, have to play defense in seats like Baker's and Wicker's, the party is in for a seriously painful year. On the other hand, Democrats will face more challenges this fall when they have to run with a presidential nominee heading the ticket. Southern voters may be willing to vote for a Democrat in a special election, but the job gets a lot harder when a Republican candidate can associate themselves with John McCain, who is likely to carry most southern states by large margins.

Poll Shows Close MS Race

While national Republicans fret about their chances of retaining ex-Rep. Richard Baker's seat in an upcoming Louisiana special election, the party could also have trouble in northwest Mississippi, where a special election will be held soon to replace Republican Roger Wicker. Wicker was elevated to the Senate in December after incumbent Trent Lott decided to resign early.

A new poll, conducted for Prentiss County Chancery Clerk Travis Childers, a Democrat, shows the race between him and Southaven Mayor Greg Davis neck and neck. The survey, conducted 4/3-7 among 500 likely voters for a margin of error of about +/- 4.5%, was conducted by Anzalone Liszt Research, a Democratic firm based in Alabama. Childers and Davis were tested.

Special Election Matchup
Childers 41
Davis 40

The seat, situated along the state's northern border, is not unaccustomed to electing a Democratic member of Congress. Former Rep. Jamie Whitten, a Democrat, still holds the record for longest continuous service in the House, as he represented the district from 1941 until his retirement in 1995. After Whitten's exit, Wicker won the district and has held it easily, and President Bush carried the seat by 25 points in 2004, higher than his 19-point margin in 2000.

Childers and Davis will each have a tough time avoiding a runoff in the April 22 special election. That's because candidates who lost a runoff for a full term last week, will still appear on the special election ballot. Republican Glenn McCullough, the former mayor of Tupelo, and Democrat Steve Holland, a state representative, are each trying to get their own names off ballot after finishing second in last week's runoff, though that appears unlikely to happen.

The poll has to be taken with a grain of salt, given that it was conducted for the Democratic candidate, but it's another indication that few areas in the country are truly safe for Republicans this year. If the party has to defend what should be solidly red Mississippi, there are few places they will not have to take seriously.

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