Friday, August 17, 2007

Mississippi 3: Pickering Seat Likely to Stay in GOP Column

Republicans are likely to retain the Mississippi Congressional District being left open because of the retirement of Rep. Chip Pickering, but that doesn’t mean that Mississippi 3rd District voters won't see a competitive campaign.

Contrary to initial reports, Pickering will not resign his seat. Instead, he will serve out his term but not seek reelection. GOP insiders describe the district as overflowing with potential Republican candidates and expect a multi-candidate primary.

Atop the list are two statewide names: Tate Reeves and Amy Tuck.

Reeves is Mississippi's 32 year old state Treasurer, the first Republican to hold the office since Reconstruction. Elected in 2003, he is a strong fundraiser and has been a high profile state official. While some insiders have already assumed that he will be a candidate for governor in 2011, the Congressional open seat could have appeal for him.

Tuck, 44, is finishing her second term as Lieutenant Governor. She is term limited and cannot seek reelection. A former Democrat who switched to the GOP in 2002, she is widely regarded as a strong campaigner. "Nobody works the crowd better than Amy," says one savvy Republican about the woman everyone describes as "a political animal."

But Tuck's Southern populism, which includes support for extensive government spending on public works projects, means that she has a problem with some base Republicans, and she hasn’t always agreed with Governor Haley Barbour (R).

Other Republicans who are being mentioned include state Senator Charlie Ross, who recently lost the GOP primary for Lieutenant Governor, state Senator Walter Michel and State Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall.

Observers say that it is unlikely that Barbour or the state party can narrow the GOP field to a single consensus candidate. "Congressional seats are lifetime appointments in Mississippi," jokes one Republican strategist who expects a number of candidates.

Pickering had expected to run for the Senate by this time, either for the seat of Sen. Trent Lott (R) or Sen. Thad Cochran (R). But Lott surprised observers by seeking reelection in 2006, and Cochran appears to be running for another term next year. That would keep Pickering in the House for an extended period, which may explain his decision.

Pickering's exit from Congress doesn’t mean that he will not run for the Senate when a Mississippi Senate comes open.

This initial analysis first appeared on Political Wire.

11:30AM UPDATE: More names continue to be floated in the Pickering open seat. The two big names still being mentioned on the GOP side are outgoing Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck and state Treasurer Tate Reeves. State Sen. Charlie Ross, who just lost a primary for lieutenant governor, also is on most lists.

Among the new Republican names being mentioned are columnist/radio talk show host Craig Ziemba of Meridien (a former military pilot), Rankin County GOP Chairman Gregg Harper and state Rep. Greg Snowden.

Jackson tax lawyer Delbert Hosemann, who recently won a primary and is the GOP nominee for Secretary of State, could also run for Congress if he loses his races later this year. If neither Ross nor Hosemann end up running for Congress, state Sen. Dean Kirby might consider the race. Hosemann lost a 1998 U.S. House race to Democrat Ronnie Shows.

On the Democratic side, the top name mentioned is former Governor Ronnie Musgrove. “It makes me feel good that people still remember by name,” Musgrove, who lost his bid for reelection to Republican Haley Barbour in 2003, told the Report. But while he didn’t completely rule out a run, he made it clear that he is not actively considering the race. We would be very surprised if he sought the seat.

After Musgrove, two additional Democrats receive mention: State Rep. Bobby Moak of Bogue Chitto (who is a friend of Mississippi author John Grisham) and former state senator Rob Smith. Smith is the Democratic nominee for secretary of state, and like Hosemann, could consider a U.S. House bid if he loses in the fall.

3:00PM UPDATE: Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck (R) is officially out of the race. A statement today from her office read, “Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck said Friday she will not be a candidate for Congressman Pickering’s seat.”

But the list of potential candidates on the Republican side continues to grow. Deputy Director of the Mississippi Development Authority Whit Hughes, Mississippi State Director for USDA Rural Development John Rounsaville, and former Public Service Commissioner Mike Callahan are all mentioned as potentially interested. In addition, GOP operatives close to the governor have been mentioned.

For the Democrats, former Gene Taylor (D) aide Shawn Bullard is mentioned. He is a former TV journalist in Biloxi who is now president of the Duetto Group in Arlington.