3 weeks out, congressional races shaping up

Staff Writer

With three weeks remaining before qualifying, the full field of potential challengers are lining up in hopes of filling the state's Third District congressional seat being vacated by Greg Harper's retirement remains.

And in District 1, where Republican incumbent Trent Kelly is the odds-on favorite to win another term, two Democrats now are vowing to run for the chance to challenge him in November.

In the First District, Kelly, who is seeking his second full term after winning a special election to replace the late Alan Nunnelee in 2015 and a full term in 2016, is unopposed.

Carlton Smith, a Unitarian Universalist minister from Holly Springs, and Randy Wadkins, a chemistry professor at Ole Miss, both say they plan to run in the June 5 Democratic primary.

The winner would face Kelly, a former prosecutor and decorated veteran who received 70 and 67 percent of the vote in his two prior elections, in the Nov. 6 general election.

Considered under-funded long shots, Smith and Wadkins both have talked populist values and focused on rural families they say are being ignored by Republicans. Neither has much name recognition in the 22-county district, which stretches across the Tennessee state line on the north and from the Memphis suburbs in the northwest corner of the state southeast to Clay, Lowndes, Winston and part of Oktibbeha County.

March 1 is the actual qualifying deadline.

Meanwhile, in the Third District, 12 Republicans and one Democrat have expressed an interest in the race to replace Harper, the long-time incumbent who announced in December he wouldn't seek re-election.

The potential Republican field includes both veteran politicos and newcomers. Among them are:

-- Trey Baxter, Madison County supervisor and businessman; 
-- Sally Doty, attorney and state senator;
-- Morgan Dunn, businesswoman and health care consultant;
-- Gerard Gibert, CEO of technology company;
-- Michael Guest, district attorney;
-- Whit Hughes, hospital system executive, ex-gubernatorial aide and former political consultant;
-- Joey Kilgore, chancery judge and attorney;
-- Jason McNeel, flooring contractor; 
-- Perry Parker, investment executive; 
-- William Shirley; state representative, restaurant owner and Coast Guard veteran;
-- Katherine Tate, education consultant, and; 
-- Mitch Tyner, regional Small Business Administration official, Trump campaign state chairman and candidate for governor in 2003.

Several of these potential candidates likely won't qualify by the March 1 deadline. Money and party connections, especially in the Jackson area, will be a key in the primary as the district stretches from Oktibbeha and Noxubee counties southwest to Adams and Wilkinson counties in the state's southwest corner along the Louisiana border.

If no candidates gets more than 50 percent of the vote in the June 5 Republican primary, the top two vote getters will meet in a June 26 runoff or the party nomination. The winner will face the Democratic nominee and any independents and third-party candidates in November.

On the Democratic side, Michael Evans, a state representative, firefighter and farmer who lives in Preston, Miss., in Kemper County, is the only person to express an interest in the race.