There are no guarantees in politics, but Joe Nosef feels pretty confident in his prediction regarding the May 12 special election for Mississippi’s open congressional seat.
“A Republican is gonna win,” says Nosef. “The question is, which Republican is it going to be?”
You might expect Nosef, as the chairman of the Mississippi Republican party, to say that. But it’s not just partisan bluster. Though there are no party identifications on the special election ballot, of the 13 candidates vying to represent the state’s First Congressional District, and all but one of them are Republicans. (The top two vote-getters will most likely proceed to a June 2 runoff). The lone Democrat, Walter Zinn, got in the race at the last minute, and while Democrats have represented the First as recently as 2011, Mississippi has grown increasingly friendly to the GOP. Mitt Romney won 62 percent of the vote in the district, which has a R+16 tilt. Republican Alan Nunnelee won a third term in November with 68 percent support.
It was shocking and sudden when, just three months after his landslide victory, Nunnelee died. The congressman had undergone surgery and chemotherapy to successfully treat a brain tumor in 2014, but a new mass struck harder and more quickly. By January, he was too ill to travel to Washington, so a federal judge in Mississippi swore him into office. Nunnelee died in his home on February 6, at the age of 56.
Not long after Nunnelee’s death, the field to replace him began to take shape, with one Republican after another announcing their candidacies. Among the candidates from Nunnelee’s hometown of Tupelo are Trent Kelly, the district attorney who snagged former Nunnelee campaign manager Morgan Baldwin, and Nancy Collins, who holds the same state senate seat that Nunnelee once had. The only candidate from Oxford, home of the University of Mississippi, is Quentin Whitwell, a former Jackson city council member who moved up to Oxford and into the district just last year.
At the moment, the two strongest Republicans in the race are Mike Tagert and Boyce Adams. Tagert, 44, is one of the state’s three transportation commissioners, the only elected office he’s ever held. Sam Hall, the political correspondent at the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, says the powerful political operation of former governor Haley Barbour is “expected” to coalesce behind Tagert. He technically lives just a couple miles from the district line in Starkville, the location of Ole Miss rival Mississippi State. A graduate of Millsaps College and Mississippi State, Tagert served in the Marines from 1988 to 1994, and later worked for transportation and business development groups in Northern Mississippi.
First elected in a special election in 2011, Tagert is just the second Republican on the commission and the first from the northern district. The position has given him the visibility and fundraising prowess to be a top competitor for Nunnelee’s seat. Despite Tagert not living within the district lines, he says he knows the area and its constituents well. “I have represented all 22 counties in the district as transportation commissioner,” he says. That’s a built-in base, another advantage for Tagert.
But the position has given Tagert’s opponents some ammunition. Last year, the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reported that Tagert suggested the state should consider a 5 cent-per-gallon increase on the fuel tax, which currently sits at 18.4 cents a gallon. The unhappy choice, Tagert argued, was between a tax increase and failing to maintain Mississippi’s roads and bridges. According to the paper, Tagert said “The only thing worse than a tax increase is to irresponsibly fail to maintain” roads and bridges.
In an interview, Tagert insists he’s not for a federal gas tax increase. “That’s not something we’ve ever proposed,” he says.
The untimely death of Nunnelee has made for an odd quirk in Tagert’s candidate status: Like many other state officials running for Nunnelee’s seat, he is up for reelection to in November, and had filed to run again for the transportation commission. If Tagert loses the House race, he’ll be able to still run for reelection to the commission.
Half of this college football regular season (7 of 14 weeks) is now in the books, and neither of the two standout teams to date has won a conference championship, let alone a national championship, in the past half-century. Each played in a bowl game in Tennessee last year (the Music City Bowl and Liberty Bowl, respectively), far away from the bright lights of Pasadena, New Orleans, or Dallas. What’s more, the two are separated from each other by only 100 miles geographically and by only .001 in this week’s Anderson & Hester Rankings. Despite their modest pedigrees and expectations, however, few college football fans would deny that #1 Mississippi (6-0, with wins over #7 Alabama and #17 Texas A&M) and #2 Mississippi State (6-0, with wins over #6 Auburn and #17 Texas A&M) have accomplished more so far this season than any other teams in the country.
After finishing the season ranked #29 last year, the Arizona Wildcats — hot off their upset win at Oregon — have claimed the top spot in the inaugural 2014 Anderson & Hester Rankings. The second and fourth spots are held by two schools from Mississippi — #2 Mississippi and #4 Mississippi State — that went a combined 15-11 last year. Sandwiched in between are the Auburn Tigers, who came within 14 seconds of winning last season’s national championship. TCU, which went 4-8 last year, rounds out the top-5.
Republicans have distinct advantages in Senate races this year, including President Obama’s low job ratings, the number of vulnerable Democrats, and an unhappy national mood. But there’s another advantage: the generally high quality of their candidates. This wasn’t the case in 2010 and 2012, when Republicans blew chances to capture the Senate.
Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi edged out challenger Chris McDaniel in the Republican primary runoff Tuesday, ending a hard-fought, often bitter campaign for the party's nomination for the Senate. Cochran won the runoff by just around 4000 votes, and is a favorite to win the general election.
A new ad set to be released later today alleges that Mississippi senator Thad Cochran is in part responsible for the release of 5 Taliban commanders from Gitmo. The ad, titled "Cochran Supported the Release of 5 Terrorists," is being released by the Campaign for American Values, a super PAC run by Gary Bauer.
American Crossroads will be staying out of the Republican primary race for U.S. Senate in Mississippi and will not be spending money on the runoff between incumbent Thad Cochran and challenger Chris McDaniel. The Republican-affiliated super PAC, who once employed former Mississippi governor and Cochran supporter Haley Barbour, will not spend resources on behalf of either candidate.
McDaniel appears to have won slightly more votes against Cochran in Tuesday's primary, though he did not win at least 50 percent of the vote and both will face off for the GOP nomination on June 24.
Longtime Mississippi senator Thad Cochran, who will be 76 at the end of this year, hasn't said whether he'll run for a seventh term in 2014. But late last week another Republican entered the primary race for Senate, and he's challenging Cochran from the right.
With 45 of 45 precincts reporting, Mitt Romney has won the Republican caucuses in Hawaii. Romney received 45 percent of the vote, Rick Santorum 25 percent, Ron Paul 18 percent, and Newt Gingrich 11 percent.
Rick Santorum won two surprise victories last night in the Alabama and Mississippi primaries, and he did so by poaching voters from Newt Gingrich’s coalition. To appreciate this, let’s take a look at some data.
First, the topline numbers in the four Deep Southern states that have voted so far.
“Senator Santorum is at the desperate end of his campaign,” Mitt Romney told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday. Oops. For weeks, Team Romney and many of its allies have been eager—one might even say desperate—to end this campaign. The Republican primary electorate has been resisting this, and the voters in Alabama and Mississippi engaged in massive resistance yesterday, giving Romney less than a third of their votes.