Last week in Meridian, fewer than 2,500 voters participated in a special election for House District 82 to fill the seat vacated by the death of Representative Charles Young, Sr. on April 29.

Five candidates - Wilbert Jones, Bill Marcy, Jesse Barfield, John Harris and Roscoe Jones - campaigned in a district totally within the city of Meridian.

Wilbert Jones (41 percent) and Bill Marcy (33 percent) will face each other in a June 30 run-off election.

Jones has been director of the Greater Meridian Health Clinic for two decades; Marcy is a retired law enforcement officer.

All special elections are nonpartisan on the ballot, but political parties are free to get involved and candidates may express their partisan leanings.

Early on, Speaker Billy McCoy and the House Democrats chose Wilbert Jones to carry their banner in the race and The House Democratic Leadership VPAC contributed to his campaign. His largest contributor was the "Campaign to Elect Charles Young, Sr.," which followed the Young family's endorsement of his candidacy.

After the first election, Democratic Chairman Jamie Franks wrote in an e-mail to his party's activists, ""I'm proud to join with the Democratic leadership of the Mississippi House of Representatives in supporting Wilbert Jones" and noted that Jones would continue the Young legacy.

Meanwhile Gov. Haley Barbour, the Mississippi Republican Party, and the Lauderdale County Republican Party all supported and contributed to Bill Marcy's campaign.

Last year, Marcy ran in the GOP primary for Mississippi's Third District Congressman. He entertained a run for city office earlier this year before withdrawing and assisting Republican nominee Cheri Barry, whom voters just elected Meridian's first female mayor.

Marcy's efforts and the Republican support make the story of this campaign.

District 82 in no way resembles a Republican district. For the GOP, Treasurer Tate Reeves came the closest to winning the district in 2007 with 49.1 percent of the vote, followed closely by Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant that same year with 49 percent. Meanwhile, Al Hopkins on the same ballot for Attorney General only pulled 28.5 percent for Republicans.

"In a strict partisan fight, this district would be difficult for any Republican candidate," said Mississippi Republican Party Executive Director Cory Adair. "But Bill Marcy is an exceptional, hard working candidate. His conservative values with an independent spirit make him a good fit for the district and if he is able to turn out his supporters on June 30, he could stage an upset."

An upset it would be. Marcy would be the first Republican who is black to join the House of Representatives since Reconstruction. Currently, with Young's passing last month and February's party-switch by Representative Billy Nicholson to the GOP, there are 72 Democrats and 49 Republicans in the House.

Ironically, Meridian NAACP leader Milton Johnson stands against what many would normally consider a historic election. Johnson called a press conference the Saturday before the election calling on Marcy to drop out citing residency questions. Marcy responded with exonerating proof and noted the election commission had already discounted those residency questions and certified his candidacy.

"I just think they're afraid that my candidacy might be gaining momentum," Marcy told WTOK in Meridian.

Brett Kittredge wrote at MajorityInMS.com, a Republican oriented political blog he publishes, "It is a shame the NAACP no longer stands for what it once did. And what is that? Equality. The NAACP could care less about equal access for all. No, they just want to help elect Democrats in the same fashion that the DNC does....Think someone is scared? Who would have thought they would live to see the day when the NAACP is calling for a black candidate to drop out of a race?"

In May, the NAACP's Johnson also protested the date of the special election, saying it did not give the Young family time to pick who they wanted to replace Charles Young, Sr.

But Young's presence is still felt in the district that first elected him in 1979. One of the larger precincts shares the name of his mother, "Velma Young." And at the Council of Organizations precinct where other voters turnout, pictures of Young decorate the walls. The late Young's car with the identifying "House of Representatives District 82" license plate was spotted driving through precincts on Election Day in the family's support of Wilbert Jones.

And when candidate John Harris ran a photograph of himself and Young together in a television commercial, the Young family filed a restraining order against Harris, "from airing, publishing, or in any other manner broadcasting any pictures or accounts, whether written, audio or visual... upon the true relationship of Mr. Young Sr. and Mr. Harris...in order to curry political favor for Mr. Harris."

The Jones and Marcy campaigns have two weeks to persuade voters and encourage supporters. A Jones win maintains McCoy's support in the House. A Marcy win gives the Republican's 50 votes and an historic victory.

Brian Perry, a former congressional aide, is a partner in a public affairs firm and served as a Republican poll watcher in the House 82 special election. Reach him at reasonablyright@brianperry.ms.