Just when things were looking somewhat predictable, the midterm primaries happened. It’s understandable with 8 of 8 statewide elected officials, both US Senators, 3 out of 4 Congressmen and supermajorities in the state legislature that Republicans have gotten spoiled with not a lot of electoral intrigue the past few years.
With incredibly underwhelming turnout, two Republican incumbents, Michael Guest and Steven Palazzo, struggled.
Here are some things that really stood out.
Turnout was low.
Really low. One theory of the race is that with as much animus to what’s happening at DC, Mississippi Republicans would be chomping at the bit just to vote to make a statement. That clearly didn’t happen.
Cassidy snuck up on Guest
There’s really no other way to put it. Guest’s bet was probably not that he’d run up the score, but being in a runoff and having had the real possibility of actually losing on the first ballot had to have surprised the Guest team substantially. Cassidy ran an “America First” campaign but didn’t have any of the Trump machine behind him formally. There was just disaffection with the political environment in general and it’s easy to get washed up in those dynamics if you’re not careful.
There’s probably no other image that encapsulates this race better than the geographic breakdown. East rural counties versus the West side of the district. Lauderdale is a bellwether Republican county and the fact that Guest lost that county to a candidate that does not have longstanding Mississippi political ties should be concerning to him. Guest had 90% of the primary vote in 2018.
The dynamics set up almost identically to the 2014 US Senate primary between Thad Cochran and Chris McDaniel although on a much smaller scale. In a razor thin race, neither could achieve 50% in a primary. Previously and thereafter political unknown Thomas Carey got 1.6% of the vote to spoil a McDaniel victory and force a runoff which Cochran won. Now relatively unknown Thomas Griffin plays the spoiler in the Guest/Cassidy primary and it looks like there will be an empty-everyone’s-bank-accounts runoff on June 28. There will likely be a decent amount of outside money that flows in. Guests last pre primary campaign finance report showed him with $293K cash on hand. Cassidy had about $80K cash on hand and loans to himself for $290K more.
Palazzo and Ezell will run off
The fact that there’s a primary runoff isn’t really that surprising here. With 7 candidates, mostly concentrated on the coast, the vote was likely to be split. This is familiar territory for Palazzo as he has been in contentious primary runoffs before, but this is an unpredictable environment and Palazzo will have to fire every bullet in his arsenal if he wants to stay in DC. Clay Wagner who finished with 20% in the MS04 race immediately endorsed Ezell, which is a meaningful development. Expect this race to be super contentious.
“I want to thank every single one of the over 11,000 of you who supported my campaign. I ask that all of you join me in supporting Sheriff Mike Ezell to be our next Congressman. Your support means the world to me and I pray that we all help move south MS forward.” – Clay Wagner pic.twitter.com/bdcsYIhzDh
— Clay Wagner for Congress – Conservative Republican (@CongressClay) June 8, 2022
Kelly and Thompson handled business
MS01 Congressman Trent Kelly and MS02 Congressman Bennie Thompson both handled business. Kelly had a formal endorsement from former President Trump. Thompson put up a huge number winning about 90% of primary votes with really nothing else on the ballot for Delta voters. To say knocking him off is a high hurdle for Republicans, even given the amount of Republican momentum that will be out there in 2022, is an understatement. Republicans Brian Flowers and Ron Eller will have a runoff in that primary that will likely be microscopic turnout absent something unforeseen.
Wake up call for Republicans in 2023
Statewide elected officials and legislative candidates ignore last night’s election results at their own peril. The energy is clearly in the Trump-y section of the party. Voters are pretty furious right now, but in a primary election there’s not much of a place to focus it. If last night’s primary says anything, it says that incumbents can be vulnerable and I think meaningful primary challenges could happen next year with lower budget, grassroots candidates.
And now Trump will be in Desoto County in 10 days
Talk about timing. Now Trump will be in Desoto County on June 18. That’s in the middle of three Republican congressional primary runoffs. He would have the ability essentially to anoint up to three runoff candidates should he so choose and anyone from a statewide elected official orbit would get a boost going into 2023.
Standby. There will be a ton of political movement here in the next 20 days in the Magnolia State.