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Mississippi runoffs: 1 could be polite, the other combative

June 6, 2018
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Michael Guest, a candidate for the 3rd Congressional District seat, tells his supporters at a party primary watch party that they still have one more challenge--a runoff--in Brandon, Miss., Tuesday, June 5, 2018, Guest will face businessman Whit Hughes in the runoff. At right is Guest's wife, Haley Guest. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The Republican and Democratic campaigns heading into the June 26 runoffs for Congress and Senate are likely to have sharply contrasting tones.

The campaign leading up to Tuesday’s six-person Republican primary for a seat in the 3rd Congressional District involved polite discussions among candidates who agreed on most big issues. It would not be surprising if the two candidates competing in the runoff, Michael Guest and Whit Hughes, continued in that vein.

The Democratic runoff for a U.S. Senate seat appears to be shaping up as a bitter contest.

Howard Sherman and David Baria emerged as the top candidates in the six-person Democratic primary for a Republican-held seat.

Baria grew up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and is an attorney and third-term state lawmaker. In a statement late Tuesday, he dismissed Sherman as a “California Republican.”

“He voted as a California Republican nine times, including the election that nominated Donald Trump,” Baria said. “Howard Sherman is not the choice for Mississippians or Mississippi Democrats.”

Sherman is a venture capitalist who grew up in Los Angeles, and he and his wife, TV and movie actress Sela Ward, raised their children there. They now live near Meridian, Mississippi, where Ward was raised.

Sherman has acknowledged that he was a registered Republican in California. He told Democrats in Hattiesburg last month that California Democrats had supported too many business regulations, but he believes Mississippi Democrats want businesses to thrive.

In an interview late Tuesday, Sherman said Baria has used “mischaracterizations” about him to try to mislead voters.

“If he continues to do that, I think it will continue to get worse for him,” Sherman said. “I invite him to meet me on issues on how to make Mississippi great. The game plan of ‘I may not have new ideas, but you don’t want the other guy’ has not proven to work.”

Sherman received about 32 percent of the Democratic primary vote Tuesday, and Baria received about 31 percent, according to uncertified results. State Rep. Omeria Scott placed third with about 24 percent of the vote. Three other candidates received less than 5 percent each.

Republican Sen. Roger Wicker, who has held the Senate seat since 2007, easily defeated one challenger in Tuesday’s primary and advances to the Nov. 6 general election. Also running in November are the Reform Party’s Shawn O’Hara of Hattiesburg and Libertarian Danny Bedwell of Columbus.

The 3rd Congressional District encompasses 24 counties in central Mississippi. In the Republican primary, Guest received about 45 percent and Hughes received about 22 percent. Guest is district attorney for the two largest counties in the district, Madison and Rankin. Hughes, who lives in Madison County, has been deputy director of the state economic development agency and has been development director for Baptist Health Systems.

The congressional seat is open this year because Republican Rep. Gregg Harper didn’t seek re-election. State Rep. Michael Ted Evans of Preston defeated one challenger in the Democratic primary Tuesday and advances to the general election. A Reform Party candidate, Michael Holland, is also running in November.

Guest told The Associated Press late Tuesday that he would emphasize in the runoff that he intends to protect the interests of more than just metro Jackson. In the first round of primary voting, he did particularly well in his home of Rankin County.

“Whoever is elected to the 3rd Congressional District is not going to represent just the metro area, but represent all the 24 counties,” he said.

Guest said he believes his experience as a district attorney resonated with voters: “I have a record of fighting for the people of Mississippi.”

Hughes noted in a separate interview that Harper finished second in the initial Republican primary 10 years ago before winning the runoff.

“Clearly, I’m the underdog in the race and I’m OK with that,” Hughes said. He pledged to “do something more than just hold office on Capitol Hill,” noting that this was his first run for office.

“I’m not a career politician,” Hughes said.

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Associated Press writer Jeff Amy contributed to this report. Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter at http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .

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