By Sandi P. Beason

Daily Journal

Ballots for next month's primaries will feature several highly contested races, with more overall candidates in county offices than in 1999.

The opposite is true of the top statewide post, with just two top contenders forecast in the governor's race. During the Aug. 5 primary election, voters will see the names of incumbent Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and four lesser known candidates - Gilbert Fountain, Elder McClendon, Katie Perrone and Catherine Starr - in the Democratic primary, and Haley Barbour and Mitch Tyner on the ballot for the Republican primary.

Although neither camp has released poll numbers, the race is widely expected to be between Musgrove and Barbour.

Locally, a handful of races are crowded, and only six office holders are unopposed.

"We're hoping for a good turnout," said Lee County Circuit Clerk Joyce Loftin. "In the last (regular) county election, we had a small percentage over 37 percent. We're hoping for a better turnout."

Her office has received "a steady stream of requests" for absentee ballots, she said.

"Usually when we have lots of requests for absentees, it's a pretty good sign the interest is there," she said.

The circuit clerk's office began accepting absentee votes on June 23, and will continue to take the ballots daily. Also, on the two Saturdays before the primary election, the circuit clerk's office will be open from 8 a.m. until noon to receive absentee votes.

"If there are any college students or people who work out of town, we will be here two Saturdays prior to the election," she said.

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 5. A runoff election, if necessary, will be held August 19.

Primary elections are run by the Republican and Democratic parties, and are heavily assisted by the county Election Commission and circuit clerk's office.

The general election will be held Nov. 4.

Tough competition

In the lieutenant governor's race, incumbent Amy Tuck of Maben has faced a firestorm recently over the source of $500,000 in loans to her 1999 campaign. Tuck claimed she did not violate the state's campaign finance laws by not revealing the source of the loans, which financed nearly a third of her 1999 campaign.

The loans, which have reportedly now been repaid, were backed by trial lawyer Richard Scruggs.

And although she originally ran as a Democrat, Tuck switched to the Republican party while in office. She is facing former state Supreme Court Justice James Roberts Jr. of Pontotoc, State Senator Barbara Blackmon of Canton and former Mississippi Valley State administrator Troy Brown of Itta Bena.

Brown lost the lieutenant governor's race to Tuck in 1999, and that same year, Roberts lost the governor's race to Musgrove.

In legislative races, there is also plenty of diversity among the parties. Two Democrats, Leon Clay and Kelly Mims, are vying for the District 17 seat in the House of Representatives, against Republican candidate Brian Aldridge.

In District 19, Democrats Jamie Franks and Sid Kirksey will face Republican Jeremy Martin, and in District 18, Democrats Christi Antillon-Webb, Scott Messer and Billy W. Shelton will face Republicans Randy Daniel and Jerry Turner. In District 16, Democrat Steve Holland is unopposed.

In the state senate, Republican Alan Nunnelee will face Democrat Doyle Lambertfor the District 6 seat, and in District 7, Democrat Hob Bryan will face Republican Chris Brown. In District 8, Jack Gordon will face fellow Democrat Raymond Paden.

County races

In Lee County, a handful of races are hotly contested.

Following the decision by Coroner Roy Barnett to leave his post to run for 4th District Justice Court Judge, 10 candidates now crowd the race for coroner, including all three deputy coroners. In that race, there are four Republicans and six Democrats.

In the sheriff's race, incumbent Sheriff Larry Presley, who obtained the post in a 2001 special election following the death of his brother Harold Ray, will face former investigator and Interim Sheriff Jim Johnson, who filled the post from a few days after Harold Ray Presley's death until the special election.

Larry Presley an Johnson are both running as Democrats. The winner of the primary election will face Republican Larry Rickels and Independent Sammy Piraino in the general election.

Each of the five county supervisors will face one opponent. The races for 3rd District Constable, 1st District Justice Court Judge, 2nd District Justice Court Judge, Superintendent of Education, Surveyor and Tax Assessor are all unopposed.

"We want to remind voters that this is the county/state election and they need to go to the county precinct, not the city precinct," Loftin said.

To find out where to vote or for other election information, call the circuit clerk's office at 841-9024.

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