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Downballot Races Could Affect Make Up of Congress

It's pretty quiet here in the Capitol today, as most of the political world is focused on Pennsylvania's Democratic presidential primary. But there are a handful of important congressional primaries happening today in the Keystone State, as well as another potential bellwether special election 1,000 miles to the south and west.

Voters in Mississippi's 1st District will head to the polls today to vote for a replacement for Roger Wicker (R), who was appointed to the Senate to succeed Trent Lott (R). It's the ninth special election to happen so far in the 110th Congress, with two more contests -- both in Louisiana -- scheduled for May 3.

Mississippi is about as red a state as they come, and the 1st District, which covers the entire northern border of the state, should be a GOP stronghold. President Bush won the district by 25 points in 2004. But as has been the case in four other specials this cycle, the contest between Southaven Mayor Greg Davis (R) and Prentiss County Chancery Clerk Travis Childers (D) has grown close enough that both parties have been pouring in resources to the seat. The National Republican Congressional Committee had, as of Friday, spent $292,000 on the race, while the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had dropped $141,000.

Today's voting is made more uncertain by the fact that those two candidates will appear on the ballot without their party identifications but with four other contenders, including one from each party who have dropped out of the contest. That unusual lineup makes it likely that neither Davis nor Childers will reach 50 percent of the vote, forcing a May 13 runoff. A poll taken by Childers' campaign and released two weeks ago showed the Democrat leading the contest by a point, though Republicans' numbers have shown them ahead. (You can read both campaigns' takes on the polling data here.)

Despite all of the special elections this cycle, there has only been one true upset so far, when Democrats captured the Illinois district of ex-Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) last month. The GOP held onto Ohio's 5th District last year, while Democrats have survived potential scares in Massachusetts 5th and Indiana's 7th Districts.

In Pennsylvania today, voters not completely burnt out by the presidential campaign will also choose nominees in several important House races, including the seat of retiring Rep. John Peterson (R). Republicans will pick their horse to face freshman Rep. Christopher Carney (D), while Democrats will settle on nominees against GOP Reps. Phil English and Tim Murphy.

A few of those seats could be in play in November. The Rothenberg Political Report rates Carney's seat a "pure toss-up," while English and Murphy are favored for re-election but potentially vulnerable.

By Ben Pershing  |  April 22, 2008; 1:25 PM ET
Categories:  2008 Campaign  
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