The special election to fill former state Sen. Merle Flowers’ unexpired term in Senate District 19 is heading to a runoff. Dr. David Parker took the first round of voting with close to 35% while Rep. Pat Nelson (HD 40) came in second with 27%, leaving the other 38% up for grabs on November 27.

Voter turnout is always a challenge but more so in runoff elections. Both candidates must get out the vote, targeting those who did not initially support them.

Parker is sensing a little voter fatigue in the district. “There is a concern among a lot of voters of election fatigue.”

“If my opponent were to win, there would be another special election and potentially another run-off for his seat,” Parker said. “After the regular election and now run-off special elections for Senate 19 and House 52, no one in DeSoto County is looking forward to more elections… that problem is solved by keeping my opponent in the House and electing me to the Senate – that is the way everybody wins in DeSoto County.”

Conventional wisdom would lean towards Parker taking the runoff given his initial lead, but this is Mississippi politics and anything can happen.

In political corners, this race boils down to Charter Schools and education reform given how the DeSoto delegation, including Nelson, stymied one of the marquee issues for this first Republican-led Legislature in 140 years.

Yall Politics sought and received an interview with both Rep. Nelson and Dr. Parker seeking to gain perspective and to clarify what may be coming down the pike come January 2013.

In speaking of Charter Schools and Parker, Nelson told YP, “From the statements made by both of us at our six Candidate Forums, neither of us feel that charter schools are needed in DeSoto County.”

Nelson described the issue as a top priority of voters in SD19.

“This issue is front burner for our voters and a poll that we ran said that over 80% of our voters support our DeSoto legislative delegation’s decision to oppose charter schools in our county,” Nelson said.

But Parker said the issue wasn’t quite as prevalent in the minds of residents as many think.

“I think charter schools has been more an issue in this race in Jackson than in DeSoto County,” Parker said. “I know my opponent has taken a lot of heat for his position on charter schools.”

Nelson, whether he wins the SD 19 race or continues in the House, believes Charter School legislation should not be encouraged wholesale throughout the state, rather it should be limited to failing districts, a point of contention among a vast majority of Republicans in the Senate and House.

“I think that we should encourage them in failing school districts in a pilot program to show that they can improve student achievement in those failing school districts,” Nelson noted. “They are not needed here locally. Our citizens believe that the DeSoto County schools are generating excellent student achievement (and at the lowest cost per student of any school district in the state).”

Parker offered a more political twist.

“In DeSoto County, voters who disagree with my opponent on his education positions certainly wouldn’t want to vote for him for the Senate,” noted Parker. “But those voters who support my opponent’s education positions surely wouldn’t want to lose him from the House Education Committee, which would happen if he were elected.”

Parker said, “I’ve been a consistent voice for stronger public schools in DeSoto County, empowering parents to make education decisions for their children and securing retirement and seeking pay raises for educators. For those who support my opponent for education purposes, clearly the best recipe for a strong District 19 education team is my opponent in the House and me in the Senate.”

As for the next two weeks, Rep. Nelson sees a clear path forward for his campaign. “I look forward to the run-off and continuing to spread our message of solid conservative principles and vision of leadership that people in DeSoto County have come to depend on.”

He has reached out to both former opponents (Blackwell and Smith) as well as to the man he is seeking to replace in the Mississippi Senate, Merle Flowers.

“I have spoken with Senator Flowers on a regular basis from the day of his announced resignation up through a couple of days ago and we often discussed strategy during the campaign,” Nelson said. “He offered excellent advice each time we spoke. We have discussed strategy for the runoff as well. I am using the same campaign consultant that he has always used.”

Dr. Parker feels confident that his campaign is on the right path for a runoff victory.

“I feel good about the run-off. My team hasn’t slowed up at all, and I’ve had supporters of Kevin Blackwell really step up and join the team and some volunteers for Mike Smith call to get involved, too,” Parker said. “Our ties to the community reach into many sectors and my patient base in the district provides a coalition that has helped get me this far in the race.”

Parker appears to be picking up support from that critical 38%.

“Kevin Blackwell’s campaign and many of his supporters have joined my team and are working hard. I’m humbled and energized by Kevin’s support – both personally and his team. I have met with Mike Smith and he has been supportive as well. Mike has not offered his official endorsement but we are working closely with some members of his campaign team.”

Blackwell officially endorsed Parker Monday.

As for his relationship with Flowers during this campaign, Parker noted, “I have spoken with Merle but have tried to respect his privacy and decision to focus on other matters.”

Some have questioned if Nelson would find the transition to the upper chamber a smooth one given Lt. Governor Tate Reeves’ strong stance on education reform.

Of his repoire with Reeves, Nelson told YP, “The Lieutenant Governor called me on the Monday following my announcement to run in the special election and he offered encouragement at that time… His Dad and I had the same classes at Copiah-Lincoln Community College and I have remained close to his family over the past forty years. His wife Elee baby sat our two daughters in McComb when they were small, so we have family ties that transcend politics.”

When asked about his relationship with the Lt. Governor during the campaign, Dr. Parker said, “I know Lieutenant Governor Reeves wants another strong leader in the Senate to represent DeSoto County and advance our conservative agenda. But I wouldn’t want to speculate about his perspective.”

In terms of support from the state Republican Party, Nelson said it has been a “hand’s off approach” with the party more concerned with ensuring a Republican retain the seat whoever that may be.

Mississippi Republican Party chairman Joe Nosef visited candidates in the summer, Nelson said. “He encouraged each of us to keep this Senate seat in Republican hands and I am glad that we have two conservative Republicans in the runoff on November 27.”

Yall Politics will continue to monitor the SD 19 runoff and bring you more news and updates as November 27 draws near.