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Election eyes on 2 races

JACKSON – Voting was expected to be brisk Tuesday in two ofMississippi’s four congressional races, with Democratic incumbentsfacing tough challenges from Republican state lawmakers.

Polls are open statewide from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

In Lincoln County, voters wasted no time in making theirmarks.

“We’re having a good turnout early,” said Lincoln County CircuitClerk Terry Lynn Watkins. “I have seen a lot of people out voting -more than I thought I’d see. It’s very encouraging.”

Watkins said several precincts were off to a good start earlyTuesday, with more than 30 people having voted before 8 a.m. at theEnterprise polling place. The Halbert Heights precinct had evenmore, leading the way in voter turnout.

It appears more Lincoln County voters cast more ballots in thefirst hour of this year’s general election than were cast duringthe 12-hour entirety of the primary contest on June 1, when only347 of the county’s approximately 24,000 registered voters – about1.5 percent – made the effort.

“I’m pleasantly surprised at the number of people fighting therain and getting out to vote,” said Watkins, referring to Tuesday’swet weather. “I think people realize how important it is. If wewant things to get better in our country, we’ve got to be a part ofthe process.”

All Lincoln County voters today are participating in the 3rdDistrict congressional race, where incumbent Republican GreggHarper – first elected in 2008 – faces Democrat Joel Gill ofPickens and one Reform Party candidate.

Lincoln County District Three voters are also choosing anelection commissioner to fill the remainder of the term of BennonCase, who died earlier this year.

Gloria Brown, D-Norfield; Barbara Davis, R-Brookhaven; RachelCole Gatlin, R-Ruth; and Mike Walley, D-Enterprise are competingfor the seat. A runoff will be held Nov. 23 if no candidatereceives a majority of Tuesday’s vote.

In the northern 1st District, Democrat Travis Childers ofBooneville is trying to hold onto the U.S. House seat he first wonin a May 2008 special election. He faces Republican Alan Nunneleeof Tupelo, who’s been in the state Senate 16 years. Sevenindependent or third-party candidates also are on the 1st Districtballot.

In the southern 4th District, Democrat Gene Taylor of Bay St.Louis has been in Congress since 1989 and is facing RepublicanSteven Palazzo of Biloxi, who’s been in the state House ofRepresentatives since 2007. One Libertarian and one Reform Partycandidate also are running in the 4th.

Mississippi’s two other incumbent congressmen – Democrat BennieThompson of Bolton in the 2nd District and Harper of Pearl faceopponents with significantly less campaign cash and namerecognition.

Thompson, in Congress since 1993, faces Republican Bill Marcy ofVicksburg, and one Reform Party candidate.

Several north Mississippi election officials said Monday they’reseeing a higher than usual number of absentee ballots. Manyattributed that to voters’ intense interest in a tight 1st Districtrace between Childers and Nunnelee.

In DeSoto County, the most heavily populated county in the 1stDistrict, Deputy Circuit Clerk Marla Treadway said 1,594 absenteeballots were cast. She said 399 were cast in the 2006 congressionalmidterm election.

In Nunnelee’s home of Lee County, Circuit Clerk Joyce Loftinsaid there were between 1,000 and 1,100 absentee ballots cast.

“I think it is because of interest in the congressional race andthe fact that we have a special election (for constable), onecontested circuit judge’s and Court of Appeals,” Loftin said.

In Childers’ home of Prentiss County, officials said 438absentee ballots were cast – higher than usual for a midterm, butsignificantly fewer than the roughly 800 in the 2008 presidentialrace.

Childers and Taylor are both fiscally conservative Blue DogDemocrats in districts that voted for Republican John McCain in the2008 presidential race. Their opponents accused them of puttingWashington politics ahead of their home districts.

Childers and Taylor portray themselves as independent-mindedlawmakers who are willing to vote against their own party’sleadership on divisive issues such as the national health careoverhaul.