Geography - McCullough vs Davis

Commercial Dispatch - DeSoto and Lee counties could be battling for political influence - Southaven Mayor Greg Davis and former Tupelo mayor Glenn McCullough are likely the two strongest contenders for the Republican nomination, although Randy Russell, an Oxford doctor, is also in the field. Over the past couple of weeks, Davis and McCullough have taken turns jabbing at each other over the television airwaves. McCullough has aired ads questioning why Davis ran as an independent in some of his earlier political races, perhaps a suggestion that Davis' conservative credentials might be lacking. Davis has returned the fire, noting in one ad that McCullough was appointed to a seat on the Tennessee Valley Authority by none other than Bill Clinton, the former president Republicans love to hate. McCullough has questioned several property tax increases during Davis' tenure as Southaven mayor. Davis has questioned McCullough's travel expenses as TVA's chairman.

But DeSoto Countians have a clear population advantage over Lee County, where Tupelo is located. According to U.S. Census data, DeSoto had about 144,706 residents in 2006. Lee County had about 79,714. Based on previous election results, Davis expects about 50 percent of the district's total vote to come from DeSoto.

McCullough isn't simply conceding DeSoto to Davis, though. He says he has an active network of volunteers in DeSoto -- and that he's trying to campaign throughout the entire district, not just in select areas. "I don't see this as a geographic war," McCullough said. "Voters are going to decide who's the best candidate for the entire district."

Barring a late surge, McCullough should have more money to take his message to the voters. According to filings with the Federal Election Commission, McCullough had raised $334,061 through Feb. 20, compared to $267,255 for Davis.

Whether that'll result in either DeSoto or Lee staking a claim to be the political center of the district remains to be seen.

Daily Journal - LLOYD GRAY: DeSoto dominates the numbers for GOP 1st District - If you want numbers that define the contest in Tuesday's Republican primary for the 1st Congressional District seat, try these: 18,329 to 2,727. That's the comparison of the turnout in the 2007 GOP primary for state and county offices in DeSoto and Lee counties.

DeSoto County's population has grown an astonishing 72 percent in the last 10 years as metropolitan Memphis spills southward into Mississippi suburban sprawl. If you're a politician, the first thing you notice is that it's a Republican population explosion. DeSoto has been remade into one of the two or three most reliably Republican counties in the state. That's the reason Greg Davis, the mayor of Southaven and formerly a member of the Mississippi House of Representatives, eventually had to declare himself a Republican to survive politically. It is also the basis of an advantage Davis enjoys in Tuesday's GOP congressional primary against Glenn McCullough of Tupelo and Dr. Randy Russell of Oxford. Again, look at the numbers: 18,329 Republican primary votes in DeSoto County to 2,727 in Lee County.

Yes, the hottest local races - notably sheriff - in Lee County last year were on the Democratic side. And this is a federal election with a presidential primary to boot, making the dynamics decidedly different. But McCullough still faces the hard fact that the built-in Republican vote in DeSoto County - and the sheer size (144,000) of the population of that county - give the DeSoto County candidate a head start in this race.

Not that all the votes there will go to Davis, of course. McCullough has spent a lot of time recently in DeSoto County trying to make a dent. Russell sometimes works out of medical clinic in DeSoto County, so he may get some votes there, but this is really a Davis-McCullough race.

The political geography and the numbers speak for themselves. If you carve out the 23 counties of the 1st District and add up the numbers from last year, more than half the Republican vote - 52 percent - was cast in DeSoto County. Only 8 percent of the total came from Lee County.

What does this mean? Assuming there is a moderate to heavy turnout in DeSoto County and Davis wins decisively, McCullough must make up that ground with a dominant showing not just in Lee County, his home, but across the rest of the district. That will require a heavy turnout in those counties on the eastern side where he is better known.

Lowndes, for example. That county - where Columbus is located - cast 6,108 Republican primary votes last year, more than double Lee's, even with Lowndes' smaller population. It's relatively new to the 1st District, having come on board in 2002 after redistricting, and Columbus hasn't always looked upon Tupelo and Tupelo people with great affection. Yet McCullough's work at TVA helped trigger the recent spurt of economic development success in Columbus and the Golden Triangle area, and there may be some residual political benefit for him.

Closer to home, will McCullough's regional outlook and emphasis while mayor of Tupelo be remembered enough by the surrounding counties to affect Tuesday's vote? Will Lee Countians feel motivated to turn out for their native son when there's not much excitement otherwise in the Republican primary and there's a hot presidential race on the Democratic side, not to mention two Lee Countians among the four active Democratic congressional candidates?

Glenn McCullough's hopes of becoming the Republican nominee - which, given the district's leanings would put him in the driver's seat for the general election - rest on blunting a massive Davis landslide in DeSoto County and winning big majorities everywhere else.

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