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Verbal sparring marks Meridian debate

By Staff
INVOLVED SPECTATORS – A large crowd of supporters of U.S. Reps. Chip Pickering and Ronnie Shows gathered Wednesday night at Mississippi State University-Meridian Campus to hear the candidates speak. Photo by Carisa McCain/The Meridian Star
By William F. West / community editor
Oct. 24, 2002
U.S. Reps. Chip Pickering and Ronnie Shows took off the gloves Wednesday night and verbally sparred in what is likely to be their last formal debate before the Nov. 5 election.
The scene was not the stifling July heat under the tin-roofed pavilion at the Neshoba County Fair's Founders Square, but instead the climate-controlled Kahlmus Auditorium at Mississippi State University-Meridian Campus.
It did not take long for the candidates to start punching and counter-punching as the event, sponsored and broadcast live by WTOK-TV, unfolded. In his opening statement, Shows claimed Pickering is distorting his record.
Pickering maintained he will conduct a positive campaign. But, he also said, "We will set the record straight when necessary."
Pickering, 39, a Republican, and Shows, 55, a Democrat, are the two contenders for a redrawn 3rd Congressional District resulting from redistricting.
Wednesday night's hour-long, televised debate began in a raucous atmosphere.
The auditorium was set up to hold about 400 people and the audience was packed with Pickering and Shows supporters armed with campaign signs. And some were also armed with highly charged emotions.
Some supporters from each side began engaging in catcalling, heckling or hissing the candidates they disliked to the point that moderator John Johnson had to repeatedly call for order.
Pickering intervened by saying he would ask his supporters to remain quiet if Shows would ask his supporters to do the same and Shows agreed.
The audience simmered down enough to permit the candidates to engage in the same rhetorical jabbing seen on the campaign stumps and trails the last several months.
But the two also got to the bottom lines of their candidacies.
Pickering said he is a conservative who believes the issues are lawsuit reform, national defense and tax relief. He also said the contest could play a crucial role in whether the Republicans maintain their narrow majority in the House.
Shows said he is a moderate who believes the issues in the contest are Social Security, health care and jobs. He blamed the House Republican leadership and Pickering for high unemployment and the relocation of factories from the state.
While the Meridian debate may be their final one, Shows and Pickering are scheduled to make at least one more joint appearance on television. They will appear live on Mississippi ETV's Statewide Live program on Halloween night at 6:30.
Candidates: U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering, current 3rd District representative, and U.S. Rep. Ronnie Shows, current 4th District representative, are running for a single seat in the redrawn 3rd District. Census 2000 showed Mississippi failed to keep pace with growing population trends nationwide and the state lost a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Job: The winner of the Nov. 5 election will represent a district extending from southeastern Webster County into east central and southwestern Mississippi. The new 3rd District, like the old one, includes Lauderdale, Kemper, Noxubee, Neshoba, Newton and Scott counties. It includes almost all of Winston County and parts of Jasper and Leake counties.
Pay: The job pays $150,000 a year.