If the state chapter of the NAACP and U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson had gotten their way, little known Naval pilot Michael Cassidy of Meridian could be the Republican nominee for the 3rd District U.S. House seat right now — or at least much closer to being the nominee.
Cassidy won more votes in the three-candidate field during last week’s Republican primary election than did incumbent 3rd District U.S. Rep. Michael Guest, but did not garner the majority of the vote needed to avoid a runoff. The runoff will be June 28.
While Cassidy won the most votes districtwide, Guest, a resident of Rankin County, defeated Cassidy in the metro Jackson counties of Hinds, Madison and Rankin. During congressional redistricting earlier this year, Thompson, the lone Democratic member of the state’s congressional delegation, and the state chapter of the NAACP proposed the portion of Hinds County in the 3rd District and some of south Madison County in the 3rd District be moved to Thompson’s 2nd District.
The Legislature must redraw congressional districts every 10 years based on the U.S. Census to ensure the population of each district is evenly distributed. If state lawmakers had accepted the proposal of Thompson and the NAACP, it would have placed Guest perilously close to losing outright to Cassidy in last week’s Republican primary.
Of course, if Hinds and a portion of Madison County had been removed from the 3rd District, additional people would have had to be added from other areas to make up for the population loss. So it is difficult to say with certainty what the final impact on the election results would have been if all of Hinds and a portion of Madison had been moved from the 3rd District to the 2nd District.
Most likely, the reconfiguration of the 3rd District under the NAACP/Thompson plan still would have resulted in a runoff, but Cassidy would have been closer to avoiding a runoff and would have made life even more uncomfortable for Guest.
At any rate, Guest finds himself in the unenviable position of being an incumbent facing a runoff election. Conventional wisdom is that if an incumbent cannot capture a majority vote in the first election, it will be difficult to do so in a runoff. But the 2014 Senate election in Mississippi proves that it is not an impossible task for an incumbent.
In the 2014 campaign for the U.S. Senate seat in Mississippi, little known state Sen. Chris McDaniel garnered 49.5% of the vote and was less than 3,500 votes short of capturing a majority and upending longtime incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran in the Republican primary.
After that near upset, much of the Republican establishment went to work in support of Cochran, who was considered an icon in Mississippi politics. In addition, many believed Cochran’s seniority in Washington was too valuable for the state to lose.
Normally in runoff elections, the total number of people voting is significantly less than in the first election. But in the Cochran/McDaniel runoff, almost 65,000 more people voted than in the first election. With the large number of additional people coming to the polls, Cochran retained the seat with 51% of the vote.
At the time, McDaniel complained and even filed a lawsuit, claiming people who normally vote Democratic came to the polls to cast a ballot for Cochran in the runoff. Many of these people, he said, were from the city of Jackson or most likely African Americans who normally vote Democratic.
Indeed, anecdotal evidence did indicate that many Black Mississippians, who normally do vote Democratic, weighed all options and decided that they would prefer Cochran over McDaniel, a conservative firebrand, so they went to the polls to vote for the incumbent in the runoff.
McDaniel complained that such a practice is not fair. But in reality, under Mississippi law, people who did not vote in the first primary election can cast a ballot in the runoff.
This past Tuesday, about 50,000 people voted in the 3rd District Republican primary. In the 2018 Republican primary when Guest first was elected, 65,207 people voted.
For the June 28 runoff, Guest and much of the Republican establishment will be looking to find some of those people who voted in 2018 but did not in 2022 to come out and vote for Guest.
In the 2014 Senate runoff, Cochran and his forces found many of those new voters for the runoff in metro Jackson. More than likely, Guest also will be looking hard in metro Jackson for new voters.
But if Thompson and the NAACP had prevailed with their redistricting plan, there would be fewer votes for Guest to pick up in metro Jackson.
Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org