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AP Decision Notes: What to expect in Mississippi’s US House primary runoff

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., talks during a hearing on Capitol Hill, Jan. 10, 2024, in Washington. Two Republicans will compete on Tuesday, April 2, for the right to challenge Thompson, a16-term Democratic incumbent, in Mississippi's second congressional district. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Two Republicans will compete on Tuesday for the right to challenge 16-term Democratic incumbent Rep. Bennie Thompson in Mississippi’s 2nd Congressional District. Ron Eller and Andrew Scott Smith were the top vote-getters in the March 12 primary, but neither received the vote majority needed to avoid the runoff election.

Eller, a military veteran and physician assistant, placed first in the primary with about 47% of the vote compared with about 36% for Smith, who has worked in commercial real estate and has a background in pumpkin farming. Eller also ran for the seat in 2022, placing second in the primary but losing the runoff to Republican Brian Flowers, who went on to lose to Thompson in the general, 60% to 40%.

In terms of policy issues, Eller touts what he calls “The E-3 Plan,” for education, economics and energy, while Smith calls his platform “The 10 Rs,” which starts with “Restore Economic Dominance” and ends with “Rip Apart the Deep State.” On border security, Eller has calls to “build the wall now” and cut off sanctuary cities from federal funding, while Smith supports a combination of “physical barriers, advanced technology, and increased personnel.” Smith also calls for legalizing marijuana and restoring voting rights for former felons who have completed their sentences.

Thompson was unopposed in the Democratic primary. He has held a version of this seat since 1993, when he was elected in a special election to replace Democrat Mike Espy, who left to serve as secretary of agriculture under President Bill Clinton.

The massive district stretches along the Mississippi River bordering Arkansas and Louisiana and comprises about 40% of the state’s geography. It includes most of the state capital of Jackson. The current boundaries were adopted in 2022. Voters in the district supported Democrat Joe Biden over Republican Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election, 63% to 36%.

Here’s a look at what to expect on Tuesday:

Primary Runoff Day

The Republican primary runoff election in Mississippi’s 2nd Congressional District will be held Tuesday. Polls close at 8 p.m. ET.

What’s on the ballot

The Associated Press will provide coverage for the Republican primary runoff election in Mississippi’s 2nd Congressional District. The two candidates who advanced from the March 12 primary are Ron Eller and Andrew Scott Smith.

Who gets to vote

Voting in Tuesday’s Republican runoff is available to anyone who voted in the March 12 Republican primary as well as any registered voter in District 2 who did not participate in any party’s primary for this seat. In other words, anyone who voted in the March 12 Democratic primary for this seat may not vote in the Republican runoff.

Decision notes

Eller fell about 3.5 percentage points short of clinching the nomination outright on primary night. His best performances were in the district’s more populous counties of Hinds, which includes most of Jackson, and Warren. He received majorities in both counties. He won most of the counties in the Delta, while Smith was ahead in the northern and northeastern regions of the district. For Smith to catch and overtake Eller in the runoff, he would need to eat into Eller’s lead in the vote-rich Jackson area and surrounding counties, while padding his vote majorities in midsize counties like Panola and Grenada.

About 36,000 votes were cast in the March 12 primary. Turnout for runoff elections tends to be lower than the primaries that preceded them. In a close contest, low turnout could delay the race-calling process, as determining the winner could depend on a handful of untabulated ballots.

The AP does not make projections and will declare a winner only when it’s determined there is no scenario that would allow the trailing candidates to close the gap. If a race has not been called, the AP will continue to cover any newsworthy developments, such as candidate concessions or declarations of victory. In doing so, the AP will make clear that it has not yet declared a winner and explain why.

What do turnout and advance vote look like

Turnout in 2023 was about 9% of registered voters in the Democratic primary for governor and about 18% in the Republican primary. There were just shy of 2,067,000 total registered for those primaries.

As of March 26, only 19 pre-Election Day ballots had been cast in the Republican primary runoff election. In 2023, pre-Election Day voting made up about 8% of the total vote in the gubernatorial primaries.

How long does vote-counting usually take?

In the March 12 primary, the AP first reported results at 8:07 p.m. ET, or seven minutes after polls closed. The election night tabulation ended at 12:35 a.m. ET with about 97% of total votes counted.

Are we there yet?

As of Tuesday, there will be 217 days until the November general election.

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