Two incumbent Mississippi congressmen, pitted together in a highly watched re-election campaign, clashed over political ideologies Thursday at the Neshoba County Fair.
In only the second face-to-face debate in the fair's 133-year history, Republican Rep. Chip Pickering billed himself as the only true conservative in the campaign. Democratic Rep. Ronnie Shows countered that he was closest to the working men and women of the new 3rd Congressional District.
The two congressmen debated before a standing room only crowd of more than 4,000 under the tin-roofed pavilion at Founder's Square.
The two were thrust into the same congressional district when Mississippi lost a congressman because of slow population growth during the 1990s. Both said the opposed military base closures, including nearby Meridian Naval Air Station. They disagreed over who had the best approach to keep Mississippi's bases open.
They also exchanged barbs over trade policy and Social Security. Shows again hammered at Pickering for accepting $82,000 in campaign donations from WorldCom. He said Pickering should return the money. Pickering has said he would not.
"The differences come down to this question,'' Shows said. "Whose side are you on? The working people or the corporate elite?''
Pickering said he has done more over the years to help WorldCom employees than Shows. Pickering criticized Shows over House leadership issues. Pickering has said the race could be pivotal to whether Democrats or Republicans run Congress after the election. He said Shows would side with liberals in the Democratic Party.
"I am proud to stand with the leadership of my party because their values are Mississippi values,'' Pickering said.
Shows was met with boos from many in the crowd after saying he would support a Democrat for speaker of the U.S. House.