JACKSON (AP) — Two years after booting two incumbents from the U.S. House, Mississippi voters chose stability in 2012 by re-electing all four current congressmen and returning Republican Roger Wicker to the U.S. Senate.
The state on Tuesday also delivered all six of its presidential electoral votes to Republican Mitt Romney, as expected. Mississippi has voted Republican in every presidential election since 1980.
Wicker won a six-year term. The House members won two-year terms: Democrat Bennie Thompson in the Delta's 2nd District and Republicans Alan Nunnelee in the northern 1st District, Gregg Harper in the central 3rd and Steven Palazzo in the southern 4th.
A preliminary exit poll conducted for The Associated Press and other news organizations showed the lackluster economy and the federal deficit were dominant electoral issues for the state, much as for the nation. A sizeable share of Mississippi voters said they think their financial situation is worse now than it was four years ago. Smaller shares said their financial situation is about the same or better.
Robin Woody, 44, of Madison, said she voted for Romney.
"I feel like our country needs to go in a new direction," said Woody, who works with babies at a mother's day out program at a Jackson-area church.
Asked what influenced her vote, Woody said: "My Christian values." She said she opposes abortion.
Reginald Welch, 22, is a University of Southern Mississippi student who drove home to Madison to vote for Obama. He said that as a young black man, he found it especially important to vote because black people in Mississippi used to be denied access to the ballot. Welch said he believes Obama relates to people from a wide variety of social and economic backgrounds.
"He speaks for the people who aren't able to speak up for themselves," Welch said. "I feel like he's a sincere person."
Wicker, 61, of Tupelo, has been in the Senate since December 2007.
"We're going to have to really attack our spending problem, much the same as a family does when they've fallen on hard times," Wicker said Tuesday. "That means we're going to have to cut spending even in programs that we like. We've reached this sort of crisis where the solutions are going to have to be bipartisan."
Wicker's Democratic challenger was Albert N. Gore Jr., 82, of Starkville, a retired United Methodist minister and retired chaplain for the U.S. Army Special Forces. Also running were the Constitution Party's Thomas Cramer of Vancleave and the Reform Party's Shawn O'Hara of Hattiesburg.
Nunnelee, 54, of Tupelo, was in the insurance business and was a longtime state senator when he unseated Democratic Rep. Travis Childers in November 2010.
Nunnelee's Democratic challenger this year was Brad Morris, 37, of Oxford, an attorney and businessman who once was Childers' chief of staff. Also running in the 1st District were Libertarian Danny Bedwell of Columbus, the Constitution Party's Jimmie Ray Bourland of Columbus and the Reform Party's Chris Potts.
The 1st district stretches across the Tennessee state line and includes Southaven, Oxford, Tupelo, Columbus and Louisville. It has all of 21 counties and part of Oktibbeha County.
Thompson, 64, of Bolton, has held the 2nd District seat since 1993 and is the longest-serving current member of Mississippi's House delegation. He is the top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee.
At his victory party in Bolton, Thompson said he served "two wild hogs that we killed and grilled," plus 300 pounds of catfish. He said Congress needs to pass a Farm Bill and head off automatic budget cuts before they take effect, as scheduled, in the coming months.
"These two items loom very large over our state because we're an agricultural state," Thompson said.
Thompson's Republican challenger, Republican Bill Marcy, 66, of Vicksburg, is a former Chicago police officer. Marcy courted tea party voters this year, as he did when he unsuccessfully challenged Thompson in 2010. Independent Cobby Mondale Williams, 36, of Canton is an urban planner tried to appeal to younger voters in the 2nd District this year. The Reform Party's Lajena Williams was also on the ballot.
The 2nd District stretches 200 miles alongside the Mississippi River. It includes all of 24 counties and parts of Hinds and Madison counties.
Harper, 56, of Pearl, is an attorney and first won the 3rd seat November 2008. He said he's focused his on his work on the Energy and Commerce Committee.
Crystal Biggs of Florence won the Democratic primary but withdrew from the race for health reasons. Democrats didn't replace her on the ballot. Reform Party candidate John "Luke" Pannell ran in the 3rd District but never filed a campaign finance report.
The 3rd District stretches from Wilkinson County by the Mississippi River, through the Jackson suburbs in Rankin County and up to Noxubee County, bordering Alabama. It includes 20 counties and parts of four.
Palazzo, 42, of Biloxi, is a Gulf War veteran who previously served in the state House of Representatives. He first won the 4th District seat November 2010 by defeating longtime Democratic Rep. Gene Taylor.
Palazzo's Democratic challenger this year was Matthew Moore, 36, of Biloxi, a community college honors student. Also running in the 4th District were Libertarian Ron Williams of Moss Point, who unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for governor in 2011; and the Reform Party's Robert Claunch of Diamondhead.
The 4th District stretches from the Gulf of Mexico up to the sand clay hills of Clarke County, south of Meridian. It includes Biloxi, Gulfport, Pascagoula and Hattiesburg, covering 13 counties and part of Clarke County.