JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Democrat Walter Zinn and Republican Trent Kelly advanced to a June 2 runoff to fill a vacant congressional seat in north Mississippi, topping a field of 13 candidates in a contest to succeed a Republican who died weeks after starting the current term.
Zinn, 34, of Pontotoc, is an attorney who has worked as a political consultant. He was the only Democrat in the contest Tuesday and appears to have been helped by a splintering of the vote among a dozen Republicans.
Kelly, 49, of Saltillo, is a district attorney for seven counties, about one-third of the state’s 1st Congressional District.
With all precincts reporting, Zinn held a slight lead over Kelly, but history shows a Democrat could have difficulty winning in a district that has been Republican for most of the past two decades.
The winner of the runoff will fill most of a two-year term started by Rep. Alan Nunnelee, who was 56 when he died of brain cancer in February. Nunnelee had just started his third term.
Although parties were not listed on the ballot, candidates told voters their party affiliation.
Zinn was also the only African-American candidate in Tuesday’s election. He campaigned on strengthening health care and public education to improve the quality of life in Mississippi, one of the poorest states in the nation. Zinn said his platform is about making “Mississippi first,” so high school and college graduates will want to stay and make a living.
“It is about making sure people are equipped to be successful,” Zinn said Tuesday night from Tupelo. “You don’t just wish to be great. You have to put things in place to be great.”
Kelly, a military veteran, was supported by Nunnelee’s widow, and the consultant who had run Nunnelee’s campaigns also ran Kelly’s.
“We believe in a strong economy, less regulations from federal government so our small businesses can thrive,” Kelly said Tuesday night from Tupelo. “I believe in a strong military and taking care of our veterans who can take care of this great nation.”
The 1st District stretches across the top of Mississippi, along the Tennessee border, and includes Southaven, Oxford, Tupelo, Columbus and Louisville. It has all of 21 counties and part of Oktibbeha County.
Most of the current 1st District was represented for more than 53 years by Democrat Jamie Whitten, who leveraged his seniority to become chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and brought home big federal money for rural electrification and other projects.
When Whitten didn’t seek re-election in 1994, the seat was won by Republican Roger Wicker, a state lawmaker who pledged to cut federal spending. The GOP has held the seat for all but about 2
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