Michael Guest, district attorney for Madison and Rankin counties

A little more than 24 hours after shoo-in incumbent Rep. Gregg Harper announced he would not run for re-election this year, the first candidate to replace him qualified for the seat.

Michael Guest, a Brandon native who has served as district attorney for Madison and Rankin counties since 2008, qualified Friday afternoon to run for Mississippi’s third congressional district.

“I’ve been talking to friends and family and praying about it,” Guest told Mississippi Today on Friday afternoon, minutes before qualifying at the Mississippi Republican Party headquarters.

The seat, likely to draw a crowded Republican primary field and at least a couple experienced Democratic officials, was not projected to be in play during the 2018 midterms. The sprawling district stretches from extreme southwest Mississippi to the Golden Triangle region.

Rep. Gregg Harper reports the results of the 2016 Electoral College vote in Congress in January 2017.

Harper’s surprise announcement set off a political chain reaction in the state, and politicos and potential candidates immediately began calling prominent donors across the state to gauge support.

The first candidate to officially qualify, Guest said on Friday he’ll focus his campaign on combating the opioid epidemic in Mississippi and nationally, addressing infrastructure concerns, and ensuring the military is adequately funded.

Guest said he had been mulling a U.S. Senate bid if Sen. Thad Cochran retires this year, but he quickly decided to run for the House seat after hearing news that Harper had called it quits.

More candidates are expected to enter the race. Filing deadline is March 1, party primaries are June 5 and the general election is Nov. 6.

Harper’s surprise announcement throws a wrench in the already dramatic short term political landscape in Mississippi. Sen. Roger Wicker, the state’s junior senator, faces a re-election bid this year, and colleagues of Cochran have said privately that he could retire this year due to health concerns.

Harper had been widely considered a favorite to fill Cochran’s seat should a vacancy occur, but several people close to Gov. Phil Bryant, who would make the appointment, have told Mississippi Today in recent days that Harper is not being seriously considered for the spot.

Harper, who was expected to run unopposed this year, was first elected to the House in 2008, holding off a crowded Republican primary field and coasting to a victory in the general election. Every two years since then, no general election challenger came closer than 25 points to knocking off the incumbent congressman.

Before he was elected to the House, Harper was a practicing attorney, He served as a prosecutor in Brandon and Richland, and he was chairman of the Rankin County Republican Party for seven years.

Contributing: Kate Royals

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Adam Ganucheau, as Mississippi Today's editor-in-chief, oversees the newsroom and works with the editorial team to fulfill our mission of producing high-quality journalism in the public interest. Adam has covered politics and state government for Mississippi Today since February 2016. A native of Hazlehurst, Adam has worked as a staff reporter for AL.com, The Birmingham News and The Clarion-Ledger and his work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Adam earned his bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Mississippi.