Wednesday, May 28, 2014 1:00 PM
Five candidates are seeking the Republican nomination in Mississippi's Fourth Congressional District Republican Primary. The matchup features incumbent Congressman Steven Palazzo, and the man he defeated four years ago Gene Taylor. Taylor represented Mississippi's Gulf Coast District for 22 years as an unconventional Democrat, but lost in 2010 after dropping his maverick reputation and voting for Democrat Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House. Taylor's Pelosi vote and a lackluster campaign provided an opportunity for the then state legislator Palazzo to sweep in and win with 52 percent of the vote.
Now running as a Republican, Taylor wants a rematch.
Taylor told the Biloxi Sun Herald he was not a very good Democrat - by national standards - so he could equally be a "bad Republican." That's not exactly the best slogan to run on in a GOP primary.
Palazzo hits all the conservative marks: endorsed by the National Rifle Association, promoting legislation on pro-life issues, and taking a hard stand on issues like the apparent IRS targeting of conservative groups and the administration's failures surrounding the Benghazi attack. He has focused on issues like flood insurance reform and increasing funding for facilities like the Stennis Space Center in Hancock County and military contracts for Ingalls Shipbuilding in Jackson County.
Taylor remains popular on the Coast and his switch to the GOP could bring a number of new voters into the Republican Primary. But any congressional campaign requires funding to be competitive and I had wondered whether he would attract the contributions to run a competitive race and get his supporters to the polls. His pre-primary FEC report shows he has raised about $250,000.
Meanwhile, Palazzo's pre-primary report shows he raised $670,000 and spent $684,000 and combined with his pre-cycle war chest has nearly $280,000 cash-on-hand to spend.
Taylor has emphasized his work at procuring IED resistant armor for vehicles in Afghanistan and Iraq with an ad featuring the father of a soldier who says he will support Taylor as if his son's life depended on it, because he says it did. He has criticized Palazzo for refusing to debate him in the primary and attacked Palazzo's vote against Superstorm Sandy relief.
Palazzo has hammered Taylor as a lifelong Democrat and reminded voters of his support for Pelosi who shepherded Obamacare through the House of Representatives. Mail pieces feature Taylor, Pelosi and President Barack Obama. Palazzo also criticized Taylor for "cashing in on government contracts" by taking consulting jobs "from the same corporations he steered our tax dollars to." His ad "Wind Blown" features Taylor's face on a weathervane and says Taylor "voted whichever way the wind was blowing" as well as trillions in higher taxes.
Three other candidates will also be on the GOP ballot: Tom Carter, Tavish Kelly and Ron Vincent.
Based on his pre-primary FEC report, Carter loaned his campaign $200,000 and has received outside that infusion less than $5000 in campaign contributions. He has spent more than $127,000 - mostly on media - and has on his team Election Impact Group (Howie Morgan of Oxford) and Kent Alexander, a 2011 Republican candidate for the legislature who lost in the primary.
Kelly raised and spent about $10,000 and is also working with Morgan's Election Impact Group.
At this column's deadline, Vincent's pre-primary report was not available but his most recent report showed he had raised less than $5000 and spent more than $23,000. According to a report from Y'all Politics, the South Mississippi Tea Party recently withdrew their endorsement of Ron Vincent. The YallPolitics.com story notes, "Vincent reportedly spoke with representatives of two other challengers also in the 4th District GOP primary - Gene Taylor and Tom Carter - about their candidacies and tying his exit from the race to a financial quid pro quo from at least one. According to sources, Vincent offered to withdraw from the race and endorse Carter if the Carter campaign would pay him $27,000 to help recoup funds he spent running against incumbent Congressman Steven Palazzo. Carter declined. Vincent then changed the offer to become a consultant on Carter's campaign for $10,000. Carter declined again...Vincent reportedly recently discussed his affection for Taylor which signaled trouble within the coast Tea Party ranks given their disdain for Taylor. Such questionable judgment and posturing caused the South Mississippi Tea Party to withdraw their endorsement of Vincent, choosing instead not to endorse any candidate for the 4th District seat."
Palazzo won his 2010 primary election with 57 percent over Tea Party backed candidate Joe Tegerdine in a race with fewer than 30,000 votes. I expect a larger turn-out this year with new Taylor voters joining the primary as well as the competitive U.S. Senate primary. If no one receives more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two vote getters will meet in a run-off on June 24.
Brian Perry is a partner with Capstone Public Affairs, LLC. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @CapstonePerry on Twitter.