From the Southern Political Report - Mississippi: Many Contenders for Wicker Seat:
President Bush carried the district with 62% in 2004; the district is 71% white, 26% black, so a
Greg Davis, 41, mayor of Southhaven, the fastest growing municipality in the state, was first out of the starting gate, announcing on November 28, before Wicker’s Senate appointment, that he was preparing to run in the event a vacancy occurred. On December 31, he filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and has begun organizing a campaign for both the unexpired term and the full two-year term. Davis has been mayor for eleven years and before that, was a member of the state house of representatives for six years. He has an engineering degree from Mississippi State. He is one of the top contenders, with the experience, background and outgoing personality that make for a good campaigner. He would have draw especially well in the northwestern part of the district.
Glenn McCullough, 52, a former mayor of Tupelo, made his kickoff announcement in four stops throughout the district on January 2. He is a past chairman of the board of the Tennessee Valley Authority, which the district’s electricity provider. He also served as director of the Appalachian Regional Commission. McCullough was elected mayor of Tupelo, the district’s largest city, in 1997 with 61% of the vote. Like Davis, he is well-qualified for the job, is personable and is well-liked. McCullough would be popular in the eastern part of the district.
State Sen. Alan Nunnelee, 49, is a 13-year veteran of the state’s upper legislative chamber, where he chairs the Public Health and Welfare Committee and is slated to become chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee when the legislature convenes on January 8. Nunnelee, who is from Tupelo, also chairs the “Taxpayer Protection Caucus” in the state senate, a group of nine senators who signed a pledge of Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform that committed him to “oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes.” Nunnelee has not entered the race, but told the Biloxi Sun-Herald that he is “seriously considering” running. He is a businessman (insurance). While not as well-known as some of the other contenders, he is smart, energetic and has a successful business background.
Brad Prewitt, a Tupelo attorney and a former staff member for US Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) has expressed interest in the race. According to the Sun Herald, Prewitt’s wife is expecting twins in February, which is affecting his decision. If he does run, he would not be as strong a candidate as Davis or McCullough, in part because he has not lived in the district very long.
Dr. Randy Russell, an Oxford ophthalmologist and a former member of the state board of health, is looking at the race. Russell has long been active in Republican Party affairs. He was a strong supporter of former Mississippi governor Kirk Fordice (R). He has indicated that he plans to run, though he isn’t likely to be strong district-wide.
Travis Childers, 49, who has served as chancery clerk for Prentiss County (Booneville) for five terms, announced his candidacy on January 2. Childers is the owner of Travis Childers Real Estate in Booneville and also owns, with his family, a nursing home and related facilities. One source describes Childers as “the dark horse in the race,” noting that he is “a savvy politician who is extraordinarily well-connected” with chancery clerks and other court house officials throughout the district. “He’s a popular public figure,” continues this observer, who notes that Childers could benefit from anti-Tupelo sentiment in parts of the district.
State Rep. Jamie Franks, 35, a hard-charging populist, ran an attention-getting race for lieutenant governor in 2007, in which he promised to stand up “to the special interests and sweetheart deals that get in the way of what Mississippi families need.” Although his campaign was unsuccessful, it should give him significant name ID in the district. While Franks got 41% of the statewide vote against Phil Bryant (R), he ran marginally better in the 1st District, garnering 44%. He did not, however, carry Lee County, his home bailiwick. Franks has not announced, but in a recent interview with the Clarion Ledger, he sounded like he would not run. For starters, he might have difficulty raising the necessary funds immediately following a losing statewide campaign.
State Rep. Steve Holland, 52, has indicated in the media that he will seek the seat. He has served in the state house of representatives for 28 years, where he has earned a reputation for being a very effective lawmaker, and gets re-elected by overwhelming majorities. Holland, from Plantersville, chairs the Public Health and Human Services Committee and co-chairs the Select Committee on Accessible and Affordable Medical Malpractice Insurance. He is a farmer and a funeral home owner. He is well-known across the district, in part for being flamboyant, which some folks regard as a plus, others as a minus.
Brian Neely, a Tupelo lawyer, announced his candidacy on January 2. Neely is a former county attorney for Lee County (Tupelo). He is a former Marine Corps captain.
State Sen. Gray Tollison, 43, who chairs the upper chamber’s Judiciary Committee, was once on the staff of the late US Sen. Stennis (D-MS). A progressive young lawmaker, Tollison, from Oxford, “is a polished, urbane, cosmopolitan person,” says one observer. He is well-liked in the legislature. Tollison in a recent speech noted that he was “part of the first generation of white Southerners to attend integrated schools in the South. It has made a difference in my life.” He also praised President Lyndon Johnson for believing “that racism was not only dividing blacks from whites but also dividing the South from the rest of the nation. By freeing people from its scourge, everyone in the region would have a better chance to grow.” He and his wife are successful attorneys. Tollison has not indicated whether he will enter the race, but if he does, he could be a significant factor.
The filing deadline for the full two year term is January 11. The primary is on March 11 and the General Election is on November 4. Gov. Haley Barbour (R) has not yet called a special election for the remainder of Wicker’s term, but says he will do so within the next 60 days. It should be around the same time as the regular primary, but will be a non-partisan election, with a runoff between the top two, regardless of party.