Nine days and counting
THE CANDIDATES On Nov. 5 voters will choose between Democratic Rep. Ronnie Shows, left, and Republican Rep. Chip Pickering to represent the redrawn 3rd congressional district. Photo illustration by Janet McDonald / The Meridian Star
By William F. West / community editor
Oct. 27, 2002
Whether your political views are conservative, liberal or middle of the road, politics is always on the menu at the Chicken Basket in Meridian.
The early morning routine has been the same for as long as anybody can remember at the North Hills Street restaurant.
Folks come in and eat, drink coffee, read a newspaper and talk politics and other issues of the day.
Want to know opinions about the 3rd Congressional District race between U.S. Reps. Chip Pickering and Ronnie Shows?
Go to the Chicken Basket between 6:30 a.m. and 8 a.m. There likely will be someone at a table with plenty of comments for the asking.
On Nov. 5, the restaurant's customers and thousands of other voters will cast ballots for either Pickering, 39, a Republican from Laurel, or Shows, 55, a Democrat from Bassfield, to represent them in a redrawn 3rd Congressional District.
The two incumbents are pitted against each other because the state lost a congressional seat after it failed to keep pace with growing population trends nationwide.
At the Chicken Basket last week, a sampling of the regulars' opinions indicated Pickering's the local favorite.
Riley said he believes the Democrats want to give everything away. "Big government wants to tell you what to do, how to do it and when to do it," he said.
But Shows had one supporter among Chicken Basket customers.
He said: "When you look at the overall political system, especially the political climate in Mississippi, there is a tendency to exclude minorities. Pickering would not be representative of that minority."
Pickering, in campaign speeches, has said he is running an inclusive campaign and will not tolerate a return to the state's old politics of white against black.
But Hayes and other critics say that when Pickering's 3rd District and Shows' 4th District were combined in redistricting, the new 3rd was only given about a 30 percent black voting age population.
Minorities once comprised more than 40 percent of Shows' 4th District and Mississippi Democrats have long counted on black support at the polls.
Hayes is well aware of the lay of the land in the new 3rd, but he said blacks he has talked to are supporting Shows.
Others at the Chicken Basket said they were for Pickering and believe he will defeat Shows. There was no agreement on what his margin of victory would be.
Tom Jones, 72, retired, of Meridian, said he does not like a Republican-backed prescription drug plan because he believes it will not help low income people.
But, Jones said, "I'm pretty well Republican all the way."
Riley said he and Jones quit voting Democratic after the retirement of 30-year U.S. Rep. G.V. "Sonny" Montgomery.
Montgomery, 82, a Meridian native, was one of a group of Southern Democratic congressmen who often sided with Republican presidents. He was replaced by Pickering after the 1996 election and is not publicly endorsing a candidate in the election.
Chicken Basket customer Travis Stewart, at first reluctant to comment on the race, soon opened up and talked about what he has heard, read, and seen the last several months.
Stewart, 60, a Meridian boat salesman, said he believes both Pickering and Shows started with good campaigns but said Shows has gone negative, which suggests to him the Democrat is behind in the race.
Stewart warned of the consequences for Shows. "Negative campaigns tend to turn people off,'' he said.
In other parts of the city last week, it was hard to gauge which of the two contenders had the most support.
If yard signs are any barometer, Pickering leads in Meridian and throughout the East Mississippi countryside. Shows, acknowledging he's an underdog, has said yard signs don't vote.
Some last week said they were not paying close attention to the race because they were either studying, working or raising their children. Others declined to say who they are voting for.
A few others, privately or publicly, said they were for Pickering.
At Mississippi State University-Meridian Campus, Katrina Bufkin, 30, of Hickory, is studying to become a teacher. She said she took time out to watch Wednesday's at-times raucous debate between Pickering and Shows, held in Kahlmus Auditorium.
Bufkin said she has not made up her mind about who she'll vote for, but she said she is leaning in favor of Pickering.
Bufkin was also miffed about Shows writing and signing a letter on official congressional letterhead to military retirees announcing he had been appointed to a coveted position on the House Armed Services Committee.
Shows can only be appointed if he wins and is in Congress next year when new committee assignments are made.
During the debate, Shows had trouble trying to explain what he called "a misprint."