May 13, 2015 — A group of 87,302 individuals went to the polls yesterday to choose a replacement for the late Rep. Alan Nunnelee (R-Tupelo) who passed away in early February. Featuring 13 candidates, none with a particularly huge advantage over the others, a close result was expected. Proceeding to a secondary run-off election was viewed as a certainty. Both prognostications proved true.
Former Jackson mayoral aide Walter Zinn, the only Democrat in the huge field, placed first, even though he spent only $9,000 on his campaign and has no base in the district. The city he served, Mississippi’s capital city, is located in the 3rd Congressional District. Attracting just over 15,000 voters (17 percent), which may represent the last vestiges of the partisan group once described as “yellow dog Democrats”, Zinn was able to top the field. But, this means advancing to a June 2 run-off and what will likely be almost certain defeat at the hands of a Republican candidate.
Zinn’s opponent will be Alcorn County District Attorney and Iraq War veteran Trent Kelly (R), who finished 896 votes behind, equivalent to a 16 percent preference. Kelly ran very strong in the seven counties he represents as District Attorney, which was enough to propel him to second place, some three percent ahead of his next closest rival, state Transportation Commissioner Mike Tagert (R). Because of the recent Republican voting history here, Kelly becomes a prohibitive favorite next month. Though Democrat Zinn placed first before this crowded field, 83 percent of the voters chose a Republican candidate.
The 1st District covers 22 northern Mississippi counties. The three population centers are the Memphis suburban communities just south of the Tennessee border, Tupelo, and Columbus. The region gave Mitt Romney 62 percent of its votes in 2012. Rep. Nunnelee, first elected in 2010 defeating incumbent Travis Childers (D), scored a 68 percent re-election victory last November.