The 3rd Congressional District runoff between U.S. Rep. Michael Guest and upstart candidate Michael Cassidy has devolved into a bitter affair featuring attack ads, name-calling and pointed questions about who is a true Republican.

For a few hours after it became apparent last week that upstart candidate Cassidy had garnered the most votes in the 3rd District U.S. House seat and had forced a June 28 runoff against incumbent Guest, policy — not politics — appeared the focus.

The Cassidy campaign sent out a news release the day after Election Day touting his “improved pro family policy,” a $10,000 per child federal tax deduction “for working families not currently receiving government assistance.”

But as the candidates and their supporters maneuver ahead of the June 28 runoff, focus is not on the child tax deduction nor any other policy. The two sides are slamming each other with negative attacks — including support for the child care policy.

PODCAST: Mississippi’s high-profile congressional runoffs

The Congressional Leadership Fund, an influential national super PAC dedicated to electing Republicans to Congress that has close ties to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, has rushed to Guest’s side with a TV ad attacking Cassidy for his support of costly programs, such as Medicare for all health care and a $20,000 payment for newlyweds.

“Another lying RINO,” the ad said, referring to the oft-used attack term that stands for “Republican In No Only.” The ad continues: “Michael Cassidy is hiding his socialist agenda.”

Cassidy, who says he will caucus with the ultra Conservative Freedom Caucus if elected to the U.S. House, has called Guest the “RINO.”

Cassidy, a former Navy fighter pilot, has said on his campaign website he supported what he thought would be the same health care for all Americans as what members of the military have.

“Within a week or two, I determined that this would cost too much money and that there were more conservative options, such as tort reform and allowing insurance to be purchased across state lines,” Cassidy said in response to the charge of him supporting Medicare for All. “I never raised this issue on the campaign trail or in any ads, literature or mail we sent out.”

U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi also is joining the fray in defense of Guest. According to the Federal Election Commission website, Hyde-Smith’s Mississippi Victory PAC is spending $6,800 in opposition of Cassidy.

And, of course, the candidates are attacking each other in dueling ads. Cassidy blasted Guest for joining Democratic President Joe Biden in sending funds to Ukraine to combat Russia’s attacks.

“Ukraine is not in our national interest, but fighting inflation and illegal immigration are,” the Cassidy ad said.

A Guest ad countered, “Mississippi doesn’t need a carpetbagger. It needs a conservative. A conservative like Michael Guest.”

The ad references that Cassidy is from out of state.  He moved to Meridian as part of his Navy military commitment and registered to vote in the state last year, according to the Guest ad.

Both sides are hitting each other with other charges as they campaign for the runoff on June 28. The runoff is needed because neither candidate garnered a majority in the June 7 Republican primary.

All registered voters in the 3rd District who did not vote in the June 7 Democratic primary will be eligible to cast a ballot in the runoff.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated when Cassidy’s health care proposal was removed from his website.

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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.