Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann recently announced March 8, 2016 as the primary date for President and Mississippi’s four congressional seats.
The qualifying period for the U.S. House of Representatives is just a week, January 4 through 8.
The timeframe from qualifying to the party primary leaves candidates who may be considering a challenge of one of the four incumbents very little time to organize an effective run, that is unless preparations have already been in the works or a candidate has run in a previous election and has resources at their disposal.
As it sits today, there is no reason to believe a challenger in any district would be favored.
MS01 – Safe Republican / Safe Kelly
Congressman Trent Kelly won a special election over a crowded Republican field in the wake of former Congressman Alan Nunnelee’s death. He has seemingly built a strong staff and is working diligently to represent the First District as their new congressman, making frequent appearances across the district and networking in D.C.
Kelly could draw a primary challenge, if for no other reason than because he’s a first termer, and if he does it would most likely be either from the McGOP-Tea Party wing or an upstart seeking to raise name ID. Kelly would conceivably dispatch with such an opponent rather easily, especially given the time constraint.
The question then becomes what Mississippi Democrat candidate will jump in the race. Apart from a run by Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley, Democrats in 2016 could do about as good as a third party challenger versus Kelly. A Presley run, however, would push Kelly and the GOP, but given the Democrats’ new found majority on the Public Service Commission, it’s highly unlikely that Presley would seek the congressional seat.
MS02 – Safe Democrat / Safe Thompson
As long as the Second District’s demographics remain the same and Democrat Congressman Bennie Thompson is seeking reelection, Mississippi’s Dean of the Congressional Delegation will remain in that seat.
The question Second District voters must ask, however, is how long do they wish to have their federal representative’s voice go unheard. Republicans appear poised to remain in the majority for at least the next two election cycles, perhaps longer. Should a Republican win the White House next November, whatever clout Thompson may enjoy currently will not be returned for some time to come.
Voters in the Second District will need to weigh whether they want Thompson for the sake of Thompson, or if they want a more effective voice. My gut tells me Thompson is a lifer.
MS03 – Safe Republican / Safe Harper
Congressman Gregg Harper is a loyal and genuine man who has been a voice of reason during his tenure. Harper, currently the longest serving Republican congressman in Mississippi, has helped his colleagues adjust to their roles and is a well-respected leader in the U.S. House.
The self-styled “anti-establishment” types are quick to criticize Harper, questioning his conservative bona fides, especially after the 2014 Senate election where he actively campaigned for and with Sen. Thad Cochran over their chosen one. If Harper gets primaried it will be from this faction, however it will likely be for naught.
One name that could surface in such a scenario is soon to be former state Sen. Melanie Sojourner. Yes, that rumor is floating out there under the Dome. A challenger like that would be a huge help because it would give Harper a great opportunity to fundraise for what would be a fight that he’d win. If he does it right, he would end that primary with more money than he started with.
There’s no scenario currently where a Democrat challenger has a legitimate chance versus Harper. It would be Robert Gray Part Deux.
MS04 – Safe Republican / Leans Palazzo
If there’s a district where an incumbent could be challenged with at least a semblance of credibility given the compressed timeframe, it’s Mississippi’s Fourth with Congressman Steven Palazzo.
Despite defeating former Democrat Congressman turned Republican Gene Taylor not once but twice (2010, 2014) in the last 6 years and despite being well positioned to expand his already significant influence on behalf of the state and district in the next term, Palazzo remains the most vulnerable of the lot in Mississippi, primarily because of the illusions of grandeur from a couple of state senators.
State senators Chris McDaniel and Michael Watson have both expressed interest in seeking the congressional seat in the past, however it’s uncertain if they will in 2016.
Thanks to his failed 2014 U.S. Senate run and subsequent efforts to remain relevant in the media by way of the upstart United Conservatives Fund and their press release machine, Jones County’s McDaniel has the network (and personal finances) to make a primary challenge worth watching, especially in the PineBelt, an area Palazzo has relied on to carry the vote over the past three terms.
Watson, a loyal-to-a-fault McGOP lieutenant, raised his name ID sitting at the right hand of McDaniel. It appears that he’s politically recovered (at least locally) from most of the damage suffered during that campaign. Despite Palazzo being from the Coast, he’s struggled to carry the lower three in the past. Having another Coast candidate with some sort of an established network challenge the incumbent could be an interesting proposition.
Should McDaniel or Watson challenge Palazzo, one would need the other. McDaniel would need Watson to deliver the Coast and Watson would need McDaniel to deliver the PineBelt.
However, the Love Boat these two have shared could be taking on a little water. As rumors go, Watson may be willing to make a run against Palazzo with or without McDaniel’s blessing and no matter if McDaniel also runs. Should Watson jump ship coupled with the failed reelection bid of his former connected-at-the-hip campaign manager, the S.S. McGOP may be sinking, leaving only McDaniel and a few avid fans in a dinghy.
It is hard to fathom that McDaniel’s desire to be in D.C. (alongside political idol Ted Cruz) could be outdone by Watson but perhaps it’s just that the Jackson County state senator’s personal political clock is ticking and he wants his shot on his own terms, outside of McDaniel’s shadow.
But hey, rumors are rumors at this point and this is speculation. We should know more in the weeks ahead.
As it stands today I’m not sure either are as well perceived in most eyes in the Fourth District as they once were, meaning while the challenge would be tight and cause much intra-party wrangling, the district still leans Palazzo.
Whether or not McDaniel and/or Watson jump in, Palazzo will have at least one primary opponent – Biloxi City Councilman Robert Deming. Deming is set to kickoff his uphill campaign this weekend. If Deming is Palazzo’s only primary challenger, Palazzo will win in a landslide.
On the Democrat side, there’s no one waiting in the wings that could beat Palazzo or another Republican candidate in 2016. The Democrat brain trust would like you to think state Rep. David Baria or another left leaning legislator could be viable, but with Baria barely squeaking out a reelection win and other Democrat legislators benched in the GOP controlled Legislature, there’s very little opportunity for Chairman Rickey Cole and his party faithful to raise name ID and brand a candidate from South Mississippi.