Three candidates have officially joined the race to run for the U.S. House seat being vacated by Rep. Gregg Harper.
Whit Hughes, a Madison businessman, signed qualifying papers as a Republican on Wednesday. He joins Michael Guest, district attorney for Rankin and Madison counties, as the only official candidates to qualify for the soon-to-be vacant seat thus far.
Hughes, perhaps best known as the sixth man for Mississippi State University’s 1996 Final Four basketball team, is the former president and chief development officer for Baptist Health Systems and longtime political campaign operative.
“I believe I am the best conservative candidate for this position,” Hughes said in a statement. “I believe voters are ready for a leader to step forward… a fighter… somebody with character and backbone that will go to Capitol Hill and drive legislation that aligns with Mississippi priorities.”
Also, Perry Parker of Seminary filed papers on Wednesday to qualify for to run for the seat, according to a report from the Associated Press. He has worked as an investment banker.
The seat, likely to draw a crowded Republican primary field and at least a couple of 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.
Harper’s surprise announcement that he wouldn’t seek re-election 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.
Guest, the first candidate to officially qualify, said earlier this month he’ll focus his campaign on combating the opioid epidemic in Mississippi and nationally, addressing infrastructure concerns and ensuring the military is adequately funded.
The vacant House seat 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 Sen. Thad Cochran have said privately that he could retire this year due to health concerns.
More candidates are expected to enter the House race. Filing deadline is March 2, party primaries are June 5 and the general election is Nov. 6.