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Mississippi U.S. Reps Face Challenges from the Left and the Right in 2020

Antonia Eliason, a self-described "Democratic Socialist," is running as a Democrat against Mississippi U.S. House District 1 Representative Trent Kelly, a Republican. Photo courtesy Antonia Eliason

Antonia Eliason, a self-described "Democratic Socialist," is running as a Democrat against Mississippi U.S. House District 1 Representative Trent Kelly, a Republican. Photo courtesy Antonia Eliason

A University of Mississippi law professor and self-described "Democratic socialist" is challenging her district's U.S. House representative, Republican Trent Kelly, in this year's election. Antonia Eliason, who is running as a Democrat, was the only candidate who filed to challenge the House District 1 congressman by the Jan. 10 deadline.

"It's time to elect progressives in Mississippi," Eliason said in a Jan. 13 press statement. "As a Democratic socialist, I intend to bring new energy to the political landscape of Northeast Mississippi and to our Democratic Party."

'We Must Confront Poverty, Inequality, Racial Discrimination'

Eliason, who has lived in Oxford, Miss., since 2013, pledged to focus her campaign on "environmental justice, universal health care, and workers' rights."

"We must confront poverty, inequality and racial discrimination at their source. With the right policies at the national and state level and with the engagement of grassroots social movements, Mississippi could become a hub for sustainable development thanks to our abundant resources," she said.

The district includes the Memphis-area suburbs, which have experienced a boom in industrial growth in recent years, with national corporations like Amazon bringing facilities—and jobs—to the area. That has facilitated population shifts, like in the DeSoto County House District where Democrat Hester Jackson-McCray, an African American woman, turned a once-deep-red Mississippi House district blue in last year's elections.

"Mississippi deserves a dynamic economy through new industries such as processing hemp for petroleum product alternatives. Northeast Mississippi must be at the forefront of the Green New Deal so that every Mississippian can have a better life," Eliason said in a Jan. 13 press statement.

During his time in office, Kelly has voted as a solidly right-wing House lawmaker. The Republican congressman opposed the Equality Act, which would have granted LGBT Americans the same protections other groups are guaranteed under the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He also voted against renewing the Violence Against Women Act last year.

In 2019, Kelly joined Mississippi's other Republican congressmen, Steven Palazzo and Michael Guest, as they introduced the so-called "Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act." That bill, which did not get a vote, would have required doctors to provide life-saving treatment to infants who survive a botched abortion.

"This vital legislation would require babies who survive an abortion to receive the same life-saving treatment as other babies," Kelly said. "Sadly, House Democrats continue to block a vote on the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Act."

But Congress, Democrats noted, already passed a similar "born alive" law in 2002 for infants that are born as the result of a failed abortion, and it is already illegal to kill an infant born following a failed abortion.

Palazzo Draws GOP Challengers

By the filing deadline, Palazzo drew three Republican challengers for his House District 4 seat, but no Democratic opponents. Palazzo's primary foes are Samuel Hickman, Robert Deming and Carl Boyanton.

Deming, the Biloxi City Council president, claimed in a Jan. 9 press release that Palazzo is insufficiently "pro-life," despite anti-abortion legislation like the bill Palazzo helped introduce last year. He vowed to help President Donald Trump fulfill his agenda.

"To get America back on the right track will require a Congress willing to make the difficult choices which our politicians won't entertain," Deming said. "President Trump needs leaders in Washington DC to back the promises he made to the American people, and since the incumbent won't do it—I will."

Deming criticized Palazzo for his refusals each year since his first U.S. House election in 2010 to show up for debates with opponents. Palazzo has also refused to hold public town halls with constituents, preferring only tele-town halls where he is able to choose which listeners get to ask questions.

"President Trump said he wanted to drain the swamp. Our 'No Show' congressman has been flooding the swamp far too long. Join me, and let's send a true conservative voice to represent our Mississippi Values on Capitol Hill," Deming said in his statement.

GOP and Dems Candidates Aim to Oust Guest

In House District 3, Guest drew one Republican primary challenger. Two Democrats, Katelyn Lee and perennial candidate Dorothy Benford, are running to oppose him.

James Tulp, Guest's Republican opponent, is running to the conservative incumbent's right, with promises to "reduce immigration." On his official campaign Facebook page, he posted a link on Jan. 3 to a Fox News article titled, "Tucker Carlson: Normal people don't want criminal justice reform, they want criminal justice enforcement."

"Governments have been instituted by God to, among other things, punish the wicked (Romans 13)," Tulp wrote, rebuking efforts at reforming the country's criminal justice system, which has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world. "The entire conversation on criminal justice reform has been ignoring one crucial voice— the victims."

No challengers filed to oppose Mississippi House District 2 Congressman Bennie Thompson, a Democrat.

In the U.S. Senate race, Mike Espy is running once again for the Democratic nomination to challenge incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith. He has one primary opponent, Jensen Bohren, an acolyte of 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders' brand of "democratic socialism."

Follow Reporter Ashton Pittman on Twitter @ashtonpittman. Send tips to [email protected].


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