By JEFF AMY
OXFORD — Republican U.S. Rep. Alan Nunnelee says he has embraced his party’s agenda and wants north Mississippi voters to send him back to Congress so he can keep working on it.
Democrat challenger Brad Morris says Nunnelee’s “embrace” is why 1st Congressional District voters should vote him out of office.
Nunnelee unseated one-term Democrat Travis Childers two years ago in a campaign in which he said getting rid of Childers would help get rid of California Democrat Nancy Pelosi as House speaker.
Now Morris, who’s an Oxford lawyer and Childers’ former chief of staff, says Congress “has lost focus on protecting middle-class and working families.”
The Constitution Party’s Jim Bourland of Columbus and Libertarian Danny Bedwell of Columbus also are seeking the seat in the Nov. 6 election.
The district will be slightly different than in 2010 because of redistricting. Panola, Yalobusha and Grenada counties were moved to the 2nd District. Added were Winston County, portions of Webster County and rural parts of Oktibbeha County.
Disagreements between Morris and Nunnelee, a former state senator from Tupelo, mirror those between their parties. Morris says Nunnelee’s support of the House Republican agenda threatens the Medicare program for senior citizens, as well as college aid and loans for students. Morris traces those positions back to Nunnelee’s time as an Appropriations Committee chairman in the state Senate, saying Nunnelee voted to crimp Medicaid funding and cut education budgets.
Nunnelee, who turns 54 this week, said the GOP-led House’s most important effort has been to improve the economy with “an agenda that would encourage private business to invest capital and create jobs.”
Morris, 37, said Nunnelee has few individual accomplishments to show for his two years in Congress, other than being “a go-to vote for national partisan politics.”
“There has been an absolute failure of Congress in the last two years,” Morris said of House Republicans. “They have governed from a very rigid and ideological point of view.”
The incumbent said it’s been exciting to be part of a group of Republican freshmen: “We have stopped the advance of the liberal agenda that was going through in the first two years of the Obama administration.”
When asked about individual accomplishments, Nunnelee notes he joined the House Appropriations Committee. Mississippians on that panel traditionally focused on carving off money for their home state, but Nunnelee said he hopes his legacy is an end to deficit spending.
“I think we have to have a new measure of success,” he said.
At the end of June, the last campaign finance reporting date, Morris had raised $44,000 and loaned himself $57,000. Nunnelee has raised nearly $1.2 million since the beginning of 2011 and had $267,000 on hand.
Despite that gap, Morris says his campaign is “crossing the threshold where people know there’s a viable candidate in the race.”
Morris’ experience makes him the most credible challenger to any of Mississippi’s four House incumbents seeking re-election this fall. But on the last day of September, some Oxford voters couldn’t recall the names of any candidate.
Bill Kingery, a University of Mississippi employee, said that as a Democrat, he feels like Nunnelee and other Republicans have done little but devote themselves to obstructing the president.
“I think they decided, ‘Let’s work for 2012 and get Obama out,’” Kingery said.
Sticking with Nunnelee is Lisa Howell of Pontotoc, who said she listens to him on American Family Radio. That politically conservative Christian radio network is part of the Tupelo-based American Family Association.
“I’m not for big government,” said Howell, a Republican. “I like small government. I like low taxes.”