By CARL SMITH
Mississippians are taking to the polls today to decide who will represent Democratic and Republican interests in the November General Election.
In Oktibbeha County, voters will chose between Republican presidential candidates and will narrow the field for two U.S. House seats and a U.S. Senate seat. Polls open at 7 a.m. and will remain so until 7 p.m.
Starkville voting locations include:
— Central Starkville: Oktibbeha County Circuit Court Annex, 108 West Main St.
— Northeast Starkville: Humphrey Coliseum, 55 Coliseum Blvd.
— East Starkville: Humphrey Coliseum, 55 Coliseum Blvd.
— Central Starkville: Gillespie Street Center, 610 East Gillespie St.
— North Starkville Dist. 2: Boardtown Village, 905 North Montgomery St.
— North Starkville: Starkville Fire Department, Station No. 3, 102 West Garrard Road.
— South Starkville: Starkville Sportsplex, 405 Lynn Lane.
— West Starkville: National Guard Armory, 939 Hwy. 12.
County voting locations include:
— Bell Schoolhouse: Bell Schoolhouse Fire Station, 2221 Hwy. 389.
— Center Grove/North Adaton: Adaton Fire Station, 2237 Reed Road.
— Craig Springs/South Bradley: Craig Springs Fire Station, 2199 Craig Springs Road.
— Maben: Maben Fire Department, 4026 Second Ave.
— North Longview: Longview Fire Station, Highway 12 West.
— Oktoc: Oktoc Fire Station, 3095 Oktoc Road.
— Osborn: 16 Section Fire Station, 1726 16 Section Road.
— South Adaton: Adaton Baptist Church, 1975 Highway 82 West.
— Sturgis/North Bradley: Sturgis Fire Station, 2729 Montgomery Street.
— South Longview: Longview Fire Station, 2168 Highway 12 West.
— Sessums: Sessums Fire Station, 3100 Turkey Creek Road.
— Hickory Grove/Southeast: East Oktibbeha Fire Station, Old Highway 182 East.
— Self Creek/Double Springs: Self Creek Fire Station, 3407 Highway 82 West.
Currently, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney leads the GOP presidential field with 454 delegates. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum trails Romney with 217 delegates, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has 107 delegates and Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, has 47 delegates.
To secure party nomination for the November General Election, a candidate needs 1,144 delegates entering the Aug. 27 Republican National Convention in Tampa.
Mississippi has 40 Republican delegates in play during today’s election. Three of those delegates are party officials. On Sunday, the Associated Press reported two of those officials are already committed to Romney while the remaining party official remains undecided. If no candidate wins a majority today, 25 statewide delegates will be awarded proportionally, while the remaining delegates will be awarded by congressional district — three from each of the four Mississippi districts.
Voters in Alabama, Hawaii and American Samoa are also participating in today’s primary elections. Combined with Mississippi, a total of 119 delegates are in play.
Last week, Romney, Santorum and Gingrich spent time campaigning around Mississippi. Marty Wiseman, John C. Stennis Institute of Government director, said Romney’s campaign presence in the state shows the former governor hopes to pick up delegates once considered a lock for Gingrich and Santorum.
“If it was three or four weeks ago, Gingrich would have won with almost 60 percent of the vote. He’s kind of lost some steam now but will still have support. Santorum has some appeal to Mississippians mainly because of his anti-Obama and anti-government stances,” Wiseman said. “I don’t expect a huge turnout, but the question is this: Are we going to have a lot of rank-and-file Republicans voting? I think if we have the situation where the regular party types turn out, then Romney has a good chance of winning. If the ones that turn out truly support Gingrich’s and Santorum’s interests and aren’t closely affiliated with the GOP party, then those two have a chance.”
If Santorum and Gingrich can chip away at the gap Romney’s created, Wiseman said the two trailing candidates can consider today’s primary a success.
“Most conservative Mississippians care about who can beat Obama,” Wiseman said. “The party isn’t going to split hairs over the candidate — they will show up in November.”
Congressional redistricting will affect which U.S. House of Representatives candidates Oktibbeha County voters will choose from today. Before redistricting, the county was primarily under District 3 boundaries, but now a portion resides in District 1.
County Election Commission Chairman Myles Carpenter said areas voting in District 1 include the Maben precinct; the Sturgis/North Bradley precinct; Bell Schoolhouse; a portion of the Craig Springs/South Bradley Precinct which was originally a part of the Old Bradley precinct; and a portion of the Center Grove/North Adaton precinct which was originally part of the old Center Grove precinct.
In District 1, incumbent Rep. Alan Nunnelee, R-Miss., is challenged by Republican candidates Robert Estes and Henry Ross, while Brad Morris is the lone Democrat in the race. As for District 3, incumbent Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss., is challenged for his party’s nomination by Robert J. Allen. Crystal C. Biggs is the sole Democratic nominee for District 3.
In the Senate Race, Republicans E. Allen Hathcock and Robert Maloney look to unseat incumbent Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss, while Democrats Albert N. Gore Jr., Will Oatis and Roger Weiner vie to challenge the GOP winner in November.
Carpenter said MSU Coliseum precinct voters need to be aware Tuesday’s 6 p.m. National Invitation Tournament basketball game will cause changes to the precinct’s regular flow of voting. While voting will continue to 7 p.m. at the precinct, Carpenter says voters should report to the coliseum by 4 p.m. to avoid parking issues.
“Because of (the game), voting will take place in the President’s Reception Room. The best way to enter the room is from the west side. There is an outside door to this room, and signs will be posted,” Carpenter said. “Those parking on the east side can walk through the lobby and enter the room. Parking attendants at the coliseum will be aware of the election and have been informed to give voters assistance.”
Oktibbeha County Circuit Clerk Glenn Hamilton said he is prepared for his first election in the position.
“We’ve had a good number of absentee ballots cast. Based on that, I think there’s quite a bit of interest in this election,” Hamilton said. “Hopefully we’ll get quality weather. If so, I think we’ll have a good turnout.”