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District 4 race watched closely for political change in Panola

Elections generally bring change, and this year’s election cycle has already brought change in Panola County. How much more change is coming Tuesday is a question many are wondering, at both the county and state levels.

The top state race, in terms of voter interest, is the one between Attorney General Jim Hood, a Democrat, and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, the Republican nominee. Two low-key candidates will also appear on the General Election ballot, but are not expected to make a significant difference in the outcome.

In Panola, it’s the Sheriff’s race that has produced the most discussion. Two-term Sheriff Dennis Darby has won hard races in the past and Shane Phelps has mounted a hard challenge for the office this year.

Darby has always run as an Independent, and Phelps qualified in the Democratic Party, so neither had a primary challenger.

While the interest in the Sheriff’s race has drawn the most attention county-wide, the Supervisor races have also piqued the attention of local political observers – especially in District 4 where a Republican candidate has put together the first ever serious challenge for a seat on the Board of Supervisors.

Several Northeast Mississippi counties have “flipped” from Democrat to Republican in recent elections, but until this election year, that hasn’t been a possibility because the ballots here have always been filled with Democratic, and sometimes, Independent candidates.

However, a Republican candidate in District 4, Mike Woods, drew a surprising 695 of the 1,607 votes cast. On the Democratic side, Chad Weaver got 473 votes, and another 435 votes were split by two other Democrats.

Of the 1,607 votes cast, more than 1,100 voted for a candidate other than Weaver, and more than 900 voted for someone other than Woods – setting up a situation that could possibly give District 4 the first ever Republican Supervisor in that area, the southeastern portion of the county.

Into that mix for Tuesday go two Independent candidates – Darrell Manning and James “Cowboy” Snyder – with both the Democratic and Republican candidates understanding that the battle for those 435 Democratic Primary voters who did not see their choice for the office advance this election, will make the difference in the race.

Although Manning and Snyder have neither spent as much as the other two, or campaigned as aggressively, both are popular and will draw significant votes between them. It’s very likely that the winner of the District 4 race will not receive a plurarity of votes, and will take office knowing that more voters in that district cast ballots for others in the race, than for them.

Pundits point to the hotly-contested Primary election for Governor as reason for the all-time high turnout in the Republican Primary in District 4 and all of Panola County.

They reason that many Republican voters in the county who have always voted in the Democratic Primaries so they will have a say in local office elections (all candidates being Democratic until recently) broke with tradition and chose to vote Republican because of the unusually tight Primary race between Tate Reeves and Bill Waller, Jr., a race that Reeves won but was forced to spend much more of his political capital and funds than he wanted.

Longtime Tax Assessor/Collector David Garner, who qualified as a Democrat, fell victim to this “switch” by the Republicans, some say, because enough of his supporters chose to skip his race and vote in the Reeves-Waller, Jr., primary.

Enough Republicans voted in their own Primary to give the Democrat O’dell Draper a chance to form a viable challenge, and he did that, winning the Tax Assessor/Collector seat by 300 votes.

Tuesday’s election will answer a burning question – will Republicans in District 4 (the strongest Republican area of the county) vote a party line when they cast ballots for Tate Reeves and other state Republican candidates, and choose their party’s nominee for District 4 Supervisor, or will they mix their ballot and choose the Democratic or an Independent candidate?

In District 3, popular incumbent John Thomas qualified again this year as a Democrat, and although Republican Ken Williams got 346 votes in the Primary, most observers believe there are still not enough Republicans in that district to flip that seat.

No matter the outcome of Tuesday’s election, though, it’s likely that District 4 will have a Republican winner four years from now, if state and local voting trends continue to inch toward the Republicans.