- Associated Press - Monday, June 1, 2015

TUPELO, Miss. (AP) - Democratic candidate Walter Zinn says he sees himself as David to the Republicans’ Goliath in a race to fill a vacant congressional seat in north Mississippi.

He faces some tough realities in Tuesday’s special-election runoff.

A 34-year-old attorney and political consultant, Zinn is making his first run for public office, and he has struggled to get support from national Democratic campaign groups.

He is being outspent by Republican Trent Kelly, a 49-year-old military veteran who is district attorney for seven counties - about one-third of the 1st Congressional District.

The two are running for a seat that has been in Republican hands for most of the past 20 years.

Zinn was the only Democrat and the only African-American among the 13 candidates originally in the contest. He received 17 percent in the first round of voting three weeks ago, and Kelly received 16 percent. That was enough to propel them into Tuesday’s runoff, when polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The winner will fill most of a two-year term started by Republican Rep. Alan Nunnelee, who died of brain cancer in February.

Zinn comes from a family with generations of Baptist church leaders in the Pontotoc area. He says he believes his message - improving education and health care and leveraging government resources to help people create opportunities to earn a better living - will appeal to voters in Mississippi, a Bible Belt state that has long struggled at the bottom of economic and education rankings.

“They’re in love with a David-and-Goliath kind of story,” Zinn said Thursday in Tupelo. “Someone said myself being last on the ballot just fits into so many Scriptures … ‘The first will be the last, and the last shall be first.’ Those things are rallying points for so many here. I think that considering Mississippi’s history, they identify with being the underdog, they identify with being underfunded. They identify with being left out.”

Kelly has campaigned on cutting spending and limiting federal regulations on businesses. He said at a campaign reception last week in Nesbit that he looks to God for guidance and that his experience in combat taught him to be decisive.

“It teaches you leadership. Not in a book, but you get to actually apply and you get to do a job where ‘no’ is not an alternative,” Kelly said Wednesday. “You have to figure out ways to be successful. It would be the same way in passing bills or getting legislation through. I will not accept ‘no’ for an answer. We’ll figure out the right way and retool or re-equip to do whatever we need to do the things that are helpful to Mississippi.”

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: https://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .

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