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2 Mississippi Republican U.S. House members forced into runoffs after weak primary showings

Michael Guest narrowly trails challenger in 3rd District; Steven Palazzo clears just 32% in 4th District

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

MississippiJACKSON, Mississippi (CFP) – Two sitting Republican Mississippi U.S. House members have been forced into primary runoffs after weak primary performances and will now have to battle to keep their seats on June 28.

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U.S. Reps. Michael Guest and Steven Palazzo, R-Mississippi

In the 3rd District, U.S. Rep. Michael Guest — one of just 35 Republican House members to vote in favor of an independent bipartisan investigation of the January 6, 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol – trails Michael Cassidy, a Navy aviator making his first run for political office.

Cassidy’s margin over Guest was less than 600 votes, with neither winning the majority needed to avoid a runoff due to a third candidate in the race.

In the 4th District, U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo — under investigation by the House Ethics Committee over allegations that he misused campaign funds and used his office to aid family members – drew an anemic 32% in his re-election bid against a field of six challengers.

He will face a runoff with Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell, who came in second about 1,500 votes ahead of Clay Wagner, a banker from Bay St. Louis.

The state’s other two U.S. House members, Republican Trent Kelley is the 1st District and Democrat Bennie Thompson in the 2nd District, easily turned back primary challenges.

Guest’s campaign faced headwinds over his over his vote on the January 6th independent commission, even though he later voted against the current House investigation led by Democrats.

Cassidy billed himself as the “America First” candidate, echoing Donald Trump’s unfounded claims of voting fraud in the 2020 election. However, Trump did not endorse in the race; he had endorsed Guest in 2020.

The 3rd District stretches across central Mississippi from the Jackson suburbs to Meridian.

Palazzo’s opponents in the 4th District hammered him over a long-running ethics investigation and what they see as his inattention to the district, which has garnered him the nickname “No-Show Palazzo.”

He ran a low-profile campaign, skipping candidate forums with his opponents. But he did have Trump’s endorsement.

Ezell, who touted his 40-year law enforcement career on the campaign trail, has served as sheriff in Jackson County on the Gulf Coast since 2014 and was re-elected without opposition in 2019.

The 4th District includes the state’s southeast panhandle, including the cities of Biloxi, Gulfport, Pascagoula and Hattiesburg.

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Mississippi Republican U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo facing Tuesday primary fight amid ethics investigation

6 opponents hitting “No-Show Palazzo” over inattention to district, ethics problems

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

MississippiGULFPORT (CFP) — Mississippi U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo — under investigation by the House Ethics Committee over allegations that he misused campaign funds and used his office to aid family members — will try to fight off a gaggle of challengers in Tuesday’s Republican primary.

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U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Mississippi

Palazzo’s race, in the 4th District — which includes the state’s southeast panhandle, including the Gulf Coast and Hattiesburg – is the only House race that is expected to have a competitive primary, although all four of the state’s House members are facing primary challengers.

There is no U.S. Senate race this year, and statewide officials aren’t up until 2023.

Polls in the Magnolia State are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Palazzo, running for his seventh term, is facing a field of Republican challengers that includes Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell; State Senator Brice Wiggins from Pascagoula; Clay Wagner, a banker from Bay St. Louis; and Carl Boyanton, a retried businessman from Diamondhead who challenged Palazzo in 2020.

If Palazzo doesn’t win a majority Tuesday, the top vote getter among his challengers will face him in a June 28 runoff.

Palazzo’s opponents are hammering him over a long-running ethics investigation and what they see as his inattention to the district, which has garnered him the nickname “No-Show Palazzo.”

Palazzo has run a low-profile campaign, skipping candidate forums with his opponents. He does have a significant trump card – the endorsement of Donald Trump himself.

A report from the Office of Congressional Ethics found that Palazzo had used campaign funds to pay himself and his now ex-wife $200,000, including the mortgage on a family home; used his office to help his brother; and used congressional staffers for errands and campaign work, which are not allowed under House rules.

The OCE turned the matter over to the House Ethics Committee, which has yet to resolve the case; Palazzo has denied any wrongdoing and claims the charges are politically motivated.

Mississippi Today also reported that Palazzo had used campaign funds to pay for meals at high-end restaurants, sporting events, golfing and gifts, which would also be a violation of House rules.

His campaign later said some of those expenditures were mistakenly paid for by the campaign and Palazzo had reimbursed at least some of the money.

The latest campaign disclosure reports show Palazzo’s challengers have collectively raised $1.5 million for their campaigns, with both Boyanton and Wagner making six-figure loans to stay competitive in the fundraising chase. Palazzo has raised $600,000.

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Tuesday’s Southern primaries will test Donald Trump’s continuing grip on Republican Party

Trump’s effort to get rid of Georgia Governor Brian Kemp likely to go up in flames, but Sarah Huckabee Sanders takes step toward Arkansas governor’s mansion

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

Decision 2022(CFP) — Donald Trump’s continuing grip on the Republican Party will be front and center in Tuesday’s Southern primaries, as GOP voters in Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas and Texas decide whether to punish some of Trump’s top nemeses and support candidates he anointed.

trump southern primariesTrump appears likely to fail in his quest to defeat Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, who angered him by refusing entreaties to overturn his 2020 election loss in the Peach State.

And in Alabama, the U.S. Senate candidate he endorsed and then unendorsed, U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, has risen from the dead and may snag a spot in the runoff, which could create a tricky predicament for the former president.

Meanwhile, Trump’s former press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, is expected to be nominated for Arkansas governor Tuesday, and Herschel Walker, whom Trump recruited, is expected to win the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate in Georgia.

Also, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who led the legal charge to overturn Trump’s 2020 loss, is in a tight primary runoff with Bush family scion George P. Bush, son of Trump nemesis Jeb Bush. Trump endorsed Paxton, who is seeking a third term while facing criminal charges and an FBI investigation.

Here is a look at the key Trump-involved races on Tuesday’s ballots:

Georgia

Polls show Kemp will likely crush former U.S. Senator David Perdue, who was encouraged to challenge Kemp by Trump in his quest to take down the governor.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who likewise earned Trump’s wrath by refusing to intervene in the 2020 election, also faces a Trump-backed challenger, U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, in his quest for a second term. With four candidates in the race, a runoff is likely, which would give Trump an additional venue to try to take down Raffensperger.

In the U.S. Senate race, Walker – whom Trump encouraged to run and endorsed – appears likely to win the GOP primary, despite questions about his thin political resume and past personal behavior.

To the frustration of his Republican primary opponents, Walker has run a stealth campaign, skipping primary debates, avoiding the media, and making a few carefully crafted public appearances. While that lack of exposure seems to have served him well in the primary, the question will be whether it will work in the fall against Democratic U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock, who possesses significant political skills.

Alabama

Trump initially endorsed Brooks, one of his strongest supporters in the House who led the charge in disputing the 2020 election results. But after Brooks’s poll numbers sank and he urged Republicans to move on from 2020, Trump pulled the endorsement, which was seen at the time as the death knell for Brooks.

However, recent polling indicates a surge of support for Brooks, mostly at the expense of political newcomer Mike Durant, which could propel him into the June 21 runoff against Katie Britt, a former top aide to retiring U.S. Senator Richard Shelby.

Both Britt and Durant have been angling for Trump’s endorsement, to no avail. A Britt-vs-Brooks runoff would put him in the awkward position of either re-endorsing Brooks or supporting Britt, who is backed by Republican establishment figures of whom Trump has been critical. Or he could stay out of the race.

Republican Governor Kay Ivey is facing a gaggle of primary challengers, including Lindy Blanchard, a former Trump ambassador whom he reportedly encouraged to leave the Senate race challenge Ivey. Trump was reportedly miffed at the governor over cancellation of one of his rallies at a state park in Mobile, even though she did not make the decision.

However, Trump has not directly endorsed Blanchard, and Ivey – who consistently polls as one of the nation’s most popular governors – is expected to easily see off her primary foes.

Arkansas

Sanders is expected to win the governor’s primary after bigfooting both Lieutenant Governor Tim Griffin and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge out of the race. Neither could get any political oxygen after Trump went all in for Sanders and are now running instead for each other’s current offices.

Republican U.S. Senator John Boozman is facing three primary challengers, including Jake Bequette, a former Arkansas Razorbacks star and NFL player who has criticized Boozman as insufficiently supportive of the MAGA agenda. However, Trump endorsed Boozman, who has been highlighting the endorsement in his advertising.

Texas

In Texas, the Republican primary for attorney general has become a contentious battle between Paxton and Bush, pitting Trump’s endorsed champion against the state’s most famous and successful political family.

Unlike other members of his family, George P. Bush has embraced Trump and has been hitting Paxton on his sea of legal troubles – he’s facing criminal charges for insider trading and is being investigated for bribery by the FBI, a probe started by allegations from his own subordinates.

Still, it is worth remembering that Paxton won re-election in 2018 while facing those same criminal charges – and the Bush name may not have the magic it once did among conservatives in the Lone Star State.

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West Virginia U.S. Rep. Alex Mooney rides Trump endorsement to primary win

Mooney defeats fellow Republican incumbent David McKinley, who voted for bipartisan infrastructure bill and independent January 6th investigation

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

West VirginiaMORGANTOWN, West Virginia (CFP) — Republican U.S. Rep. Alex Mooney has won the hotly contested incumbent-vs-incumbent primary in West Virginia’s 2nd U.S. House District, riding Donald Trump’s coveted endorsement to an easy win over U.S. Rep. David McKinley in the state’s May 10 primary.

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U.S. Rep. Alex Mooney, R-West Virginia

“When Donald Trump puts his mind to something, you better watch out,” Mooney told supporters in his victory speech, in which he said voters in northern West Virginia “spoke loud and clear tonight.”

Mooney also took a shot at Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, who crossed party lines to endorse McKinley, hinting that he might run against him for the Senate when Manchin’s seat comes up in 2024.

“I’m 2-0 against him. Maybe I should make it 3-0,” Mooney said.

Mooney took 54% of the vote to 36% for McKinley, with the rest split among three other candidates. He will be heavily favored in November against Democrat Barry Wendell, a former city council member in Morgantown, who won his party’s primary.

One possible wild card in that race: Mooney is currently under investigation by the House Ethics Committee over allegations that he misused campaign funds, had office staff perform personal errands, and interfered in a previous ethics investigation. He has denied any wrongdoing.

McKinley and Mooney were forced to run against each other after West Virginia lost one of its three U.S. House seats after 2020 reapportionment. State legislators decided to slice the state into northern and southern districts, throwing both men into a primary for the same seat.

The 2nd District includes the northern and western panhandles and the northern third of the state, including the cities of Morgantown, Wheeling and Parkersburg.

McKinley has represented more of the district than Mooney in the previous House map, but Mooney ended up carrying all but three counties.

Trump endorsed Mooney over McKinley, who was one of just 35 Republicans to support an independent investigation into the January 6, 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol and one of just 12 GOP members voting for Joe Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill.

McKinley later voted against a House-led January 6th investigation in which Republican leaders aren’t participating.

McKinley said he supported the infrastructure measure because West Virginia needed money, but Mooney has labeled him as a RINO – Republican in Name Only – for going along with a plan championed by Biden and Democrats.

The state’s other incumbent U.S. House member, Republican Carol Miller, easily won her primary in the southern 1st District that includes Charleston and Huntington. She will face Democrat Lacy Watson, an instructor at Bluefield State College, in November.

Mountaineer State voters also decided state legislative primaries and other local races Tuesday; there are no statewide races or U.S. Senate seats up this year.

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Political Tornado: Can North Carolina U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn survive his penchant for controversy?

Decision to switch districts, comments about cocaine use and orgies have put his political future in jeopardy

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

North CarolinaASHEVILLE (CFP) — When Madison Cawthorn came out of nowhere to win a North Carolina U.S. House seat in 2020 at the tender age of 25, he was seen as a handsome, fresh-faced rising star in the Republican firmament, an ardent partisan of Donald Trump with a compelling personal story of overcoming hardship.

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U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-North Carolina

Now, less than two years later, a series of missteps and controversies has alienated GOP colleagues in the House, drawn active opposition to his re-election from top state Republicans, and landed him in a crowded primary where he’s fighting for his political life.

So, can Cawthorn regroup, retool and survive, or will his political career crash ignominiously after barely taking flight?

To be sure, Cawthorn has significant assets –- strong name recognition, a fervent following among the MAGA base, and a reputation as a passionate foe of liberalism in all of its forms. He has raised $2.9 million, nearly three times as much as any of his primary opponents and a massive haul for a district without expensive media markets.

Most importantly, he has been endorsed by Trump, who invited him to speak at an April 9 rally in Selma even as House Republican colleagues were setting their hair on fire over Cawthorn’s ill-considered podcast musings about being invited to orgies and witnessing cocaine use.

That controversy – coming on the heels of Cawthorn’s dismissal of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as a “thug” and news that he was arrested for driving on a revoked license – prompted both of North Carolina’s U.S. senators and the two top Republicans in the legislature to publicly support one of Cawthorn’s primary opponents, State Senator Chuck Edwards from Hendersonville.

Cawthorn was also on the receiving end of a talking to from House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, who bluntly told reporters that Cawthorn wasn’t telling the truth and had lost his trust.

Cawthorn has shown little sign of being chastened by the experience, issuing a statement afterward saying he “will not back down to the mob” and adding: “My comments on a recent podcast appearance calling out corruption have been used by the left and the media to disparage my Republican colleagues and falsely insinuate their involvement in illicit activities.”

But perhaps Cawthorn’s most consequential political blunder was his decision to abandon the 11th District in Western North Carolina, where he was elected in 2020, to run for re-election instead in a new district closer to Charlotte, created by Republican legislators as part of a map gerrymandered to the party’s advantage.

The state Supreme Court threw out that map and adopted a new one that obliterated Cawthorn’s new district, prompting him to return to the 11th. But by that time, seven Republicans had already entered the race, and all of them decided to stay.

Had he not initially forsaken the district, Cawthorn would probably have had an easy road through the primary and been the favorite in November in a conservative, pro-Trump district. Now, he faces a dogfight in which the overriding issue will be him – his judgment, his temperament, and his behavior.

However, what may rescue Cawthorn in the end is North Carolina’s unique primary system, which only requires a candidate to get 30% of the vote to avoid a runoff. So his name recognition and MAGA support could be enough to triumph in an eight-candidate field.

Edwards has consolidated support from the party establishment.  But he’s lagged in fundraising behind another competitor, Bruce O’Connell, a hotel owner from Haywood County who drew national attention for fighting the Biden administration’s COVID-19 restrictions.

Also in the race in Michelle Woodhouse, the Republican party chair for the 11th District, who bills herself as the “America First” candidate in the race and was endorsed by Cawthorn as his replacement when he moved to the different district.

If the anti-Cawthorn vote divides between these contenders, he’s likely to finish first and will win if he can clear 30%.

Waiting in the wings for whoever survives is Democratic Buncombe County Commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, a pastor and LGBTQ activist who has raised $1.2 million so far for the race.

This is not district that has been in play in recent years, although a Democrat held it as recently as 2013. But Cawthorn’s presence in the race has clearly helped Beach-Ferrara’s fundraising, and she’ll raise even more if he survives the primary.

This plays into the argument by Cawthorn’s primary opponents that, given his flaws, he’s vulnerable to a Democrat in a way they are not. Whether that argument gains traction may depend on whether the tornado of controversy surrounding Madison Cawthorn dissipates — or continues to churn.

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