MS First Congressional District results: all about money?

May 13th, 2015     Government & Politics

Elections are all about money?

Raise the most money in any given electoral contest and you are likely to win?

A candidate with no money cannot be competitive?


All the of the above statements are (almost) always true. But not in the election yesterday to fill the empty Mississippi First District Congressional seat.

With 13 candidate in the race, Walter Zinn, a black Pontotoc attorney and the only Democrat in the non-partisan race, said on his recent Federal Election Commission (FEC) report on campaign spending that he had raised no money whatever. Nada.

But Zinn ran first in yesterday’s election. He got 15,135 votes district wide — 17% of the total ballots recorded yesterday. It’s worth repeating: no money but number one in a crowded 13-candidate field. Zinn ran third in Union County, winning 8% of the ballots.

Trent Kelly of Saltillo ran second, with 14,239 votes or 16%. Kelly is a white Republican, as were the other 11 candidates on the ballot yesterday. Kelly is the District Attorney of the First Circuit Court District, which includes Lee, Alcorn, Itawamba, Monroe, Prentiss, Pontotoc, and Tishomingo counties. He became DA in 2011 by beating a seven or eight term Democratic incumbent.

In this Congressional race Kelly spent a little money, but half or less of what the five best-financed candidates spent. He spent $95,000 or $6.67 per vote. Kelly ran second in Union County with 707 votes or 17%.

Northern District Transportation Commissioner Mike Tagert had the second highest campaign war chest with $247,000. He ran third in the district with 11,115 votes, 16%. Tagert did run first in DeSoto County with 2,761 votes, and he ran fourth, immediately behind Zinn, in Union County with 262 votes. Tagert is also running for re-election to his transportation commission job in this year’s state elections. Tagert spent $22.22 for each vote he received.

The top spender in the race, Tupelo attorney Greg Pirkle, came in fourth, and a pretty distant fourth at that. Pirkle reported having raised $256,000 for his campaign, but got only 7,094 votes — $36.09 per vote. Pirkle did run second in Lee County, but Kelly beat him in Lee by more than a two-to-one margin. Pirkle did run first in Union County, where he was raised. He drew 44% of the vote here — 1,767 votes or about 25% of the votes he received yesterday. He did not do well in any counties other than Union and Lee. He ran fourth in both Chickasaw and Pontotoc and not as well elsewhere.

Starner Jones, a Pontotoc-born physician who practices medicine in emergency rooms in Memphis and DeSoto County, got 6,951 votes in the district. Jones spent $228,000 — $32.85 per vote. He was the top vote getter of at least four candidates considered Tea Party devotees. The other three Tea Partiers — Henry Ross, Boyce Adams, Jr., and Ed Holliday — accumulated about 15% of yesterday’s votes between them. That means, with Jones’s votes, the TP took about 23% of the total ballots yesterday.

It should be noted that Adams, the 30-year-old son of a Columbus computer software mogul, spent $228,000 — $57.90 for every vote he received, which means he spent $21.81 more per vote that Greg Pirkle.

We’ve put the reader through a perhaps tedious account of who spent how much per vote, but the results are strikingly at odds with conventional wisdom on spending and winning elections.

The top guy spent nothing. The second place finisher spent less than seven bucks per vote. Go figure.

We know little about Zinn beyond what we said in yesterday’s election day article. We can’t resist re-printing part of it. We said of Zinn: “He is a good speaker and may be the most knowledgeable of all the candidates on the greatest variety of issues. He has spent nearly no money and is not given even a slim chance by most of making the run-off. However, imagine what might be if he has quietly courted people of color and a few other admitted Democrats in the district. Contrary to conventional wisdom,  Zinn may not be at the bottom of the vote tally.” Sorta wish now we’d crawled a little further out on that limb! Of course, Zinn is black, a Democrat and still has no money. He would probably make us a good congressman, but he cannot win the June 2 runoff election…or can he?

Unless something truly extraordinary happens Trent Kelly will be the new First District Congressman. He will do a great job.  He is well-regarded, including by Democrats who’ve known him long. He has had an honorable career as a lawyer and prosecutor and a distinguished career as a military officer. A colonel in the Mississippi National Guard, Kelly has taken his outfit to combat in the Middle East twice in the last 12 years, and has brought every one of them back to Mississippi alive. He’s very proud of that fact and so should be every Mississippian. He is only 49 years old and we believe he’ll serve us long and well in the U. S. House of Representatives.




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