BRANDON — The hundreds attending Michael Guest’s victory party Tuesday night at Mudbugs restaurant most likely left confident Guest would be the next U.S. House member from Rankin County.
It was almost as if Guest’s November general election foe — state Rep. Michael Evans, D-Preston — was an afterthought to the crowd.
After all, Guest was introduced to the crowd late Tuesday as the next congressman from Rankin County after he garnered 31,121 votes (65 percent of the total) against Whit Hughes of Madison County in the District 3 U.S. House Republican runoff.
Of those 31,121 votes Guest received in the 24-county District 3, just under 40 percent came from his home county of Rankin. Rankin accounted for about one-fourth of all the votes tallied in the district Tuesday and was a key in Guest leading the six-candidate field in the first primary on June 5 by 23 percentage points. While Guest led the first primary by a sizable margin, he did not capture the majority needed to avoid a runoff.
Guest, the district attorney for Rankin and Madison counties, performed strongly throughout the district, but Rankin gave him a solid base.
It is no surprise that Gregg Harper, also a Rankin County resident, has held the District 3 U.S. House post for the past 10 years, and after capturing the seat in 2008, never faced a serious challenge. Harper opted not to seek re-election this year.
Rankin County is the district’s most populous county and also is heavily Republican.
The county’s strong Republican presence is one of the many obstacles that Evans, a second-term state House member from east Mississippi will face as the Democratic nominee for the District 3 seat in the November general election.
Beside Rankin County being heavily Republican, in general, the district as a whole tilts strongly toward the GOP.
District 3, which stretches from the Louisiana border in southwest Mississippi to Oktibbeha County in northeast Mississippi, was listed as the 99th most Republican District in 2018 by the Cook Political Report. During Harper’s five successful elections, the best showing by a Democrat in the district came in 2008 when then Pickens Mayor Joel Gill captured 37.5 percent of the vote. Two years later Gill won 31 percent of the vote.
Evans, 42, known in the House for his country twang and sense of humor, maintains he has a chance.
“It depends,” Evans said recently. “If the Democratic base gets out and I can get some crossover votes, I think I can win.” Evans says he believes he can relate to most Mississippians.
Bobby Moak, chair of the state Democratic Party, says Evans fits the mold of the Democrat who can be competitive in the district. He is from a rural area of the district, is a chicken farmer and is viewed as a moderate.
“We have the right guy,” Moak said.
Moak said the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is watching the race. If Evans shows an ability to raise campaign funds, it is possible he can receive some national help from the DCCC.
Moak would not say how much money Evans would need to raise, but speculation is that it would need to be more than $100,000.
Evans has raised about $7,000, according to his last campaign finance filing. Guest has raised about $450,000.
The inability of most Democrats in Mississippi to raise campaign funds has been a major stumbling block to their efforts to elect officials in recent years.
For that reason, Austin Barbour, a Republican who has worked on multiple campaigns, including the Hughes campaign, said “it would be very difficult” for a Democrat to win the 3rd District.
“The Democrat would have to depend on national sources for funds. As Ronnie Musgrove found out in 2008 (in a Senate election against Roger Wicker,) the Democrat will be criticized for relying on out-of-state money.”
While there was a sense of confidence at the Guest victory party, he did warn an enthusiastic crowd that the election is not over. While winning the Republican primary, is an important “milestone,” he said Republicans who supported the other five candidates who participated in the Republican primary must unite to ensure victory in November.
“We need to come together as a family – a family of Republicans so we can win in November,” Guest said.
No doubt, Rankin County will be key to that effort.