By Michael Newsom
It appears the two Democrats and two Republicans challenging first term U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo may face an uphill climb. Only one reported any campaign funds, while the incumbent has over $500,000.
Palazzo faces Republicans Ron Vincent and Cindy Burleson in the GOP primary Tuesday and Democrats Michael Herrington and Jason Vitosky will square off in the Democratic primary. Diamondhead's Robert W. Claunch, 84, is a Reform Party candidate who faces no primary opponent.
Palazzo, the first-term Republican Congressman, who defeated longtime incumbent Democrat Gene Taylor in 2010, posted $568,934 in campaign donations, including $306,000 on hand, in the most recent FEC report dated Feb. 22. Of the other candidates, only Vincent, who has who has raised $4,960 according to his reports, has filed campaign finance records.
Heading into Tuesday, Palazzo said he believes he has much support.
"They appreciate what I am doing up in Washington and they know we have a lot of work ahead of us," Palazzo said. "We didn't get into this mess overnight, but they are confident I am going to be able to help them and their families. I've got their prayers, their support and their vote on Tuesday. That gives me the encouragement to keep working hard for them."
Palazzo has been taking the message to voters he plans to continue fighting spending, regulations and "the government takeover of healthcare" among other priorities.
With few funds for pricey advertisements, Palazzo's opponents Tuesday are at a distinct funding disadvantage. They said they would spend the next few days trying to hit spots across the 15-county district, which stretches from the Coast north almost to Meridian.
Vincent, a retired engineer and TEA Party candidate from Hattiesburg, said in addition to what's in the latest report, he put up about $25,000 of his own money toward his election bid, but acknowledges he may need a miracle.
"It's (a longshot) if you just look at the money, but Tuesday is where the rubber meets the road," Vincent said.
Vincent believes there's a feeling among voters that Palazzo doesn't make himself available to constituents enough, or hold enough town hall meetings, which could help Vincent's chances. Palazzo disagrees with that.
"We're 100 percent accessible," Palazzo said. "I pass out business cards with my cellphone number and email address on them for people to get in touch with me. We travel the district every time I am not in DC, constantly hitting all 15 counties, drinking coffee at gas stations, having breakfast and going to Rotary and other civic club meetings. We are extremely accessible, but I think that's the kind of political rhetoric you hear on a campaign."
Burleson, of Hattiesburg, is chair/CEO of the International Sibling Society, which aims to "increase awareness of international child abandonment, sport for development and peace, and Olympic values." Burleson said she expects to receive more funds after the primary, which she believes will result in a major upset for her.
"I am looking forward to a landslide victory," Burleson said.
She said promoting renewable energy is one of the main topics of her discussions with voters. She favors more use of solar panels, in particular, to provide power to homes.
Neither candidate in the Democratic primary has reported any funds, according to the FEC database. The 26-year-old Vitosky, of Gulfport, said he was spending the next few days getting the word out at Democratic meetings in the area. He's been talking to voters about his ideas for improving education, including finding ways to make textbooks cheaper and getting more educational materials online and making better use of video lectures.
"I just hope people will look past party lines and do their due diligence to research the candidates," Vitosky said.
Herrington, a 27-year-old from Hattiesburg who operates street sweeping and catering businesses, said he was working hard leading up to Tuesday's vote, putting out signs and meeting voters in the district. Herrington said he's hoping to bring more jobs to the area by recruiting more employers. He believes the district needs someone who "puts the people of Mississippi first and not party agenda" instead.
"We've been out working every day throughout the district to meet and greet folks," Herrington said. "We're pretty excited about it."