Oil spill on the minds of primary voters in Mississippi and Alabama

Alex Pappas Political Reporter
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With forecasts showing oil hitting both Mississippi and Alabama’s coasts this week, candidates in primary elections in those states today have mostly steered clear of attacking their opponents on the spill, instead directing most harsh rhetoric over the oil spill at BP.

“I am outraged and deeply concerned that it has now been more than one month since the BP Deep Horizon oil rig explosion and massive amounts of oil continue to gush from the ocean floor,” says Alabama gubernatorial candidate Bradley Byrne on his Web site, “while those whose land and lives are at great risk can do nothing but pray.”

The campaign website for Byrne, a former state senator and establishment candidate seen as the GOP front-runner, includes a banner with listings of ways for supporters to volunteer with the oil spill cleanup. The Alabama governor’s election is wide-open this year, with current Gov. Bob Riley term-limited by law.

His chief competitor in the GOP fight, businessman Tim James, ended a 10-day campaign bus tour along the Alabama Gulf Coast. “If this thing continues at this pace there’s going to have to be some serious pressure put on British Petroleum,” James told reporters in Gulf Shores, Ala., the beachfront city bracing for the oil and a loss of tourism revenue. “You get three or four governors of Southern states pitching a fit, they can do a lot of things.”

As for the Democrats in the governor’s race, Rep. Artur Davis — angling to become the state’s first black governor — introduced legislation last month raising the cap on oil companies’ damages to $10 billion from $75 million. His primary opponent, the state’s agricultural commissioner, Ron Sparks, has expressed fear in the press recently over the state losing counted-on taxes from tourists.

As for the attorney-general race in Alabama, the incumbent, Troy King, has benefited from the free press of playing tough with BP, but polls still show him trailing GOP challenger Luther Strange.

In Mississippi 4th Congressional District, and the race to represent coastal cities like Gulfport and Biloxi, Republicans Joe Tegerdine and Steven Palazzo have kept the heat on Democrat Rep. Gene Taylor, a 20-year incumbent.

Because Taylor is a conservative who voted against Obama’s health-care bill, Palazzo has used a “fire Pelosi” catch phrase for his campaign to try to win over voters, pointing out that the Blue Dog Democrat has voted for the house speaker twice. As for the oil spill crisis, Palazzo had to defend himself after dropping out a primary debate with Tegerdine, citing the oncoming slick.

“I have been consumed by the oil spill crisis,” Palazzo told a local news organization. “That comes first.”

As for other races to keep an eye on Tuesday:

  • In northern Mississippi, the first congressional seat held by Democratic Rep. Travis Childers is seen as a prime pick up opportunity for Republicans. The GOP primary includes Fox News analyst and self-proclaimed Tea Party candidate Angela McGlowan. Another Republican, Henry Ross, joins McGlowan in the race chasing down front-runner state Sen. Alan Nunnelee.
  • Voters in New Mexico are also heading to the polls today, most notably with a competitive Republican governor’s race on the ballot. A host of Republicans — including the son of former Sen. Pete Domenici — are battling it out to take on Democratic candidate Lt. Gov. Diane Denish in November. Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson is unable to run because of term limits.

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