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posted by admin on March 1st, 2008 at 8:39 AM (MST)

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The Hattiesburg American, The Jackson Clarion-Ledger by Tim Doherty

Across the nation, political eyes and ears are tuned into the presidential primaries, particularly the Democratic duel between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

In Mississippi, mention a Senate race and most might assume the conversation to ensue would focus on the special election to fill Trent Lott's seat.

But there's another Senate contest in Mississippi rolling into the March 11 primary through the general election in November.

"Everybody knows about the special election; we're running in the other race," said Erik Fleming of Clinton, a former state representative who will face Shawn O'Hara of Hattiesburg in the Democratic primary.

The winner will face incumbent Thad Cochran, who will be a seeking a sixth consecutive term in November. He is unopposed in the Republican primary.

"It's an incredible challenge," Fleming said. "And I found that out with Lott because people get used to voting for someone for so long. You really have to show why there should be a change."

While O'Hara, 50, never has been elected, he is no stranger to politics or running for office.

Since 1989, O'Hara has been a candidate in a local, statewide or national elections on a near-annual basis since 1989, including a stretch of 14 consecutive years between 1991-2004. He was on the ballot when Cochran won a fifth term six years ago.

Last year, he qualified for no fewer than 13 state races before the Mississippi Democratic Party limited him to a run only for the state treasurer's post. O'Hara lost to incumbent Tate Reeves, who received nearly 61 percent of the vote.

But O'Hara, a self-employed business consultant and motion picture producer, said he was heartened by that showing.

"I think I've got issues that can help us," O'Hara said. "And I really want the voters to look at them and decide whether they like them or they don't like them."

O'Hara's issues include:

Lowering gas prices by building more refineries and developing alternative fuels.

Stop giving billions of dollars to foreign countries.

Equal pay for equal work for women.

Quit accepting the transfer of California inmates to Mississippi prisons.

Fleming, a 43-year-old paralegal who served three terms in the Mississippi House of Representatives, said his major planks mirror what he said are the public's main worries: affordable health care, reviving a lethargic economy, and job creation and retention.

"People are hurting," Fleming said. "They want to have certainty about health care. They want to have certainty about the economy. You have to address the everyday worries that people face."

Both O'Hara and Fleming agreed interest in the presidential campaigns likely will translate into more Mississippians than usual heading to polls.

"Clearly, the enthusiasm is there on the Democratic side," Fleming said.

"From a Democratic standpoint, we've got two, viable shots (in Senate races), and it's an opportunity for people to make real changes.

"This year, I really believe, is one of the biggest election years in state history."


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