JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Voters in central Mississippi's 3rd District are choosing a new member of Congress for the first time in a decade. Candidates have been traveling for weeks to speak at forums and fish fries, and the heavy rotation of advertising—for those who can afford it—is expected to begin close to Memorial Day.
Party primaries are June 5, and if a runoff is needed to choose the Republican nominee, it will be June 26.
Rep. Gregg Harper of Pearl was first elected in 2008 to what was then an open seat because fellow Republican Chip Pickering stepped aside after 12 years. Harper announced early this year that he wouldn't seek another term, saying he thinks a decade in Washington is enough.
The district encompasses all of 20 counties and parts of four others. It runs in a diagonal across the middle of the state, from two counties that touch the Mississippi River in the southwestern corner, up through the more densely populated suburbs of Madison and Rankin counties in the Jackson metro area and further northeast to the college town of Starkville and over to the Alabama line.
Six candidates are in the Republican primary. Because a majority is needed to win, it is likely to go to runoff.
Sally Doty , 51, of Brookhaven, is an attorney and second-term state senator.
Morgan Dunn , 36, of Magee, founded a health care consulting firm, and she and her husband own a restaurant.
Michael Guest , 48, of Brandon, is the district attorney in Madison and Rankin counties.
Whit Hughes , 43, of Madison, is a past deputy director of the state economic development agency and has been foundation president and chief development officer for Baptist Health Systems.
Perry Parker , 52, of Seminary, had a career in international finance, working in Chicago, New York, London and Santa Barbara, California, before moving back to his native Mississippi; he also helped found a bank in Hattiesburg.
Katherine "Bitzi" Tate , 61, of Jackson, is an education consultant.
Two candidates are competing in the 3rd District Democratic primary.
Michael Ted Evans , 42, of Preston, is a second-term state representative and retired firefighter. Michael Aycox , 30, of Newton, is a Navy veteran.
The most recent campaign finance reports show how much money the candidates raised and spent between Jan. 1 and March 31. Hughes led the field, having collected $304,354. Next was Guest, at $280,911.
Parker collected $102,032 and loaned his own campaign $240,000. Doty collected $65,059 and loaned her own campaign $15,802. Dunn collected $30,600 and loaned her own campaign $73,100. Tate did not file a report to the Federal Election Commission.
On the Democratic side, Aycox reported $100 in contributions and Evans did not file a report.
The 3rd District has been considered solidly Republican territory since it was created after the 2000 Census. Mississippi went from five U.S. House districts to four because it had grown more slowly than other states. The current 3rd District consists largely of territory combined from the former 3rd that was represented by Pickering and the former 4th that was represented by Democrat Ronnie Shows. Pickering and Shows were pitted against each other in the redrawn 3rd District in 2002, and Pickering won.
For a Democrat to compete in the general election this year, the party and the nominee will need to quickly accelerate their fundraising efforts.
Winners of the Republican and Democratic primaries will advance to the Nov. 6 general election, and the ballot then will also list Matthew Holland as a Reform Party candidate for the 3rd District.