2 GOP congressmen in Mississippi face defeat in runoff | Policy

MAGEE, Miss. (AP) — Congressional primary runoffs with incumbents are rare in Mississippi. This year, two of the state’s Republican representatives are battling to keep their jobs in the runoffs against challengers from their own party.

US Representative Steven Palazzo is seeking a seventh term and was considered vulnerable after being charged in 2021 congress ethics report of abusing his office by wasting campaign funds.

US Representative Michael Guest is seeking a third term. He voted to create an independent commission to investigate the riot at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, and was forced into a runoff amid criticism that he was disloyal to former President Donald Trump.

Palazzo and Guest failed to clear the 50% threshold to win outright in their June 7 primaries. On Tuesday, Palazzo will face Mike Ezell, the sheriff of a coastal county, while Guest will face Michael Cassidy, a former Navy fighter pilot.

The Associated Press searched state records dating back to 1952 and found that no U.S. representative from Mississippi had participated in a party runoff in those 70 years.

Mississippi’s other two congressmen, Democrat Bennie Thompson and Republican Trent Kelly, easily won their primaries this month.

Guest represents Mississippi’s 3rd congressional district, which includes parts of Jackson and its suburbs, encompassing the area where Guest served as a district attorney before being elected to Congress. The district also has small towns, poultry processing plants, and military installations, including one where Cassidy still trains pilots.

Guest received 47.5% to Cassidy’s 47% on June 7 in a race with three candidates. Guest and Cassidy campaigned separately last week in the small town of Magee, in a county where Guest fared slightly better than Cassidy on the first ballot.

Guest calls his challenger a “carpetbagger” because Cassidy moved to Mississippi from the East Coast and didn’t register to vote here until 2021. Cassidy acknowledges the timing of his registration, saying he remained a voter in a State while being transferred into others.

Cassidy accuses Guest of betraying Trump by joining Democrats and 34 other Republicans in supporting the creation of a bipartisan commission into the Jan. 6 attack.

A few weeks after the failure of this proposal in the United States Senate, Guest was among 190 Republicans who opposed the creation of the House committee that spent months investigating the insurgency and recently launched televised hearings. He and Palazzo were among House Republicans who opposed certification of election results from some states that opted for Democrat Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential race.

Cassidy says in campaign speeches that Guest did nothing to stop “the January 6 persecution of political prisoners.” During a dinner at Jose’s Restaurant & Grill in Magee, Cassidy criticized the commission that Guest voted to support.

“It said … in the bill that everyone who was up there that day was a domestic terrorist,” Cassidy said.

Guest rejects any suggestion that he was disloyal to Trump.

“They don’t want to talk about our 95% voting record with Donald Trump that we were co-chairs of his Mississippi re-election campaign, that we voted against impeachment twice, and that we actually spoke out against it,” Guest said to a lunch crowd the next day a mile away at Zip’s Cafe.

The winner of the second round between Guest and Cassidy will face Shuwaski Young in November. Young worked at the US Department of Homeland Security during Barack Obama’s presidency.

Palazzo represents Southeast Mississippi’s 4th congressional district, which includes the cities of Biloxi and Hattiesburg. The district’s economy relies heavily on the military and shipbuilding.

Palazzo served in the Marine Corps and the Mississippi National Guard. He was in the state legislature before unseating a longtime Democratic congressman in the 2010 Tea Party wave.

In 2021, a report by the Congressional Ethics Office found “substantial reason to believe” that Palazzo abused his office by spending campaign funds, doing favors for his brother, and enlisting staff for political and personal races. His spokeswoman at the time, Colleen Kennedy, said the investigation was based on politically motivated “false allegations”.

In the primary, Palazzo received 31.5% of the vote to Ezell’s 25% in a race with seven candidates.

Ezell said Palazzo was ineffective in representing southern Mississippi, and he criticized Palazzo for proxy voting — the practice of not showing up in person to vote in the House but allowing another member to vote at his or her square.

In November, the winner of the second round between Palazzo and Ezell will face Democrat Johnny L. DuPree, a former Hattiesburg mayor who was the 2011 Democratic nominee for governor, and Libertarian Alden Patrick Johnson.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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