U.S. House Rep. Steven Palazzo, a Republican who has served Mississippi’s 4th Congressional District since 2011, will fight to save his seat in a runoff later this month after failing to secure at least 50% of the vote in Tuesday night’s Republican Party primary.
“It’s an honor to serve south Mississippi, and it’s something I do not take for granted,” the South Mississippi incumbent said in a statement Tuesday night. “… We now turn our attention to the run-off, and we will not be out-worked. We will continue talking to voters about what we’ve been able to accomplish and our plans for promoting policies to restore economic growth, secure our borders, and keep Americans safe.”
With 97% of the vote in by 11 p.m. Tuesday, the South Mississippi congressman had earned the support of less than 32% of GOP primary voters, with the remaining vote split between five challengers, the Associated Press reported.
Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell looks set to emerge as Palazzo’s opponent in the June 28, 2022, Republican primary runoff.
Ezell had 25% of the vote at the AP’s latest count, followed by Hancock County businessman Clay Wagner with 22%.
“Going forward, I would ask that you strongly consider supporting Mike Ezell to be our next congressman because we need change in Washington,” Wagner said in a video endorsement.
The ultimate GOP nominee will face former Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree, who won Tuesday’s Democratic primary, and Libertarian Party candidate Alden Johnson in the November general election.
Palazzo Ethics Investigation Ongoing
This week’s Republican primary marks the first time in his career as a congressman that Palazzo has had to defend his seat in a Republican primary runoff. Over the past year, he has fought accusations of wrongdoing amid an ongoing congressional ethics probe.
In March 2021, a non-partisan congressional ethics board said it found “substantial evidence” that the embattled congressman may have repeatedly violated federal law, including by misusing campaign funds and using his office for campaign purposes and to do favors for a family member. He denies the allegations. Palazzo’s opponents, from the left and right, have also accused him of being absent from his district and chastised him for missing votes in Congress.
All GOP candidates ran on conservative platforms opposing President Joe Biden’s domestic policy agenda.
On his website, Ezell touts his “40 years of experience in law enforcement,” saying he “has a proven record of standing up and speaking up for the men and women who protect our communities” and is “ready to take on the radical left and politicians who want to defund the police.”
Ezell’s website also notes his devotion to former President Donald Trump’s policies, including his attempt to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“A long-time supporter of President Trump, Mike Ezell understands the importance of putting America First,” the issues section says. “He’ll push for Trump-era policies that keep our nation strong, including ending our reliance on foreign oil and maintaining the world’s best-trained and equipped military.”
In his statement Tuesday night, Palazzo said he will focus on working to “fight inflation by restoring American energy independence and cutting wasteful spending”; “eliminate burdensome regulations, making job creation easier”; and “fund military modernization to protect our national homeland defense while supporting Mississippi’s key role in our security economy.”
DuPree Changed Abortion Views
In Tuesday night’s Democratic primary, Johnny DuPree defeated David Sellers, a United Methodist Church pastor from Hattiesburg who ran on an openly liberal platform and as a proponent of abortion rights.
“Tonight, my race for Congress comes to an end,” Sellers said in a statement Tuesday night. “I congratulate Dr. Johnny DuPree on tonight’s victory, and he has my full support in the effort to give South Mississippi someone who represents all of us. … If I can impart anything to Mississippians, it’s that we have to demand more from candidates. We have to demand that they talk about real issues, not talking points. We have to demand that they give straight answers to tough questions. That’s the only way we move forward.”
In 2011, DuPree was the Democratic Party’s candidate for governor, but he ran on a conservative platform that included support for the Personhood Amendment—a ballot initiative that would have banned all abortions from the moment of fertilization as well as some methods of birth control and in-vitro fertilization. DuPree lost that election even as the state’s voters rejected the Personhood Amendment 58%-42%.
During a Democratic candidates forum on May 2, 2022, DuPree reversed his old position on abortion, saying he now supports “a woman’s right and ability to control their reproductive life.” That same hour, Politico broke news of a leaked draft U.S. Supreme Court opinion showing that the court’s conservative majority intended to uphold Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban and overturn Roe v. Wade.
In a questionnaire with the Mississippi Free Press, the Libertarian candidate, Alden Johnson, said he does not “support the government attempting to legislate morality.”
“I would support any legislation to protect abortion access,” he said. “I oppose any penalties for those seeking abortions and for those performing abortions. It’s not my business, nor is it the government’s business.”
All Republican primary candidates, including Palazzo, oppose abortion rights.
The general election is on November 8, 2022. Voters may vote for any candidate they choose in the general election regardless of whether they voted in the party primaries or which party primary they voted in.