Palazzo expected to win; but 3 challenge GOP incumbent.

Published 11:58 am Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Fourth congressional district incumbent, U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo, a Republican from Biloxi, is up for his first re-election bid on Nov. 6, and pundits who watch such races give Palazzo’s three challengers little chance of unseating the first-term Congressman. A U.S. representative has to run for re-election every two years.

In November 2010, Palazzo did what many thought couldn’t be done: He unseated veteran Democratic congressman Gene Taylor of Bay St. Louis, who had a solid conservative record for 19 years in the U.S. House and was influential in obtaining his share of federal money for his fourth district.

Some coast activists, though, thought Taylor was fraternizing with the enemy too much and was vulnerable — he voted twice to help elect Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to the House speaker’s post — and Palazzo hammered Taylor over the head with that at each campaign stop leading up to the November 2010 vote, after which the GOP took control of the House, in part, thanks to the Tea Party.

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Taylor said he voted for Pelosi because she was pushing some bills on which he needed help and her support.

Palazzo rode an anti-establishment wave into the fourth district House seat, but being a Persian Gulf War Marine combat veteran, a State representative and successful Biloxi businessman helped.

Palazzo always said he was going to fire Pelosi when he got to Washington, D.C., and he and a majority of Republicans elected their own speaker when they were sworn in to the House. Palazzo, though, points out that Republicans control only 50 percent of one-third of the U.S. government.

There was a rumor that some Democrats had approached Taylor to run again to get Palazzo out, but Taylor declined. Then another rumor in the fourth district surfaced: Sources said that a prominent Gulf Coast lawyer, a Republican, was thinking about challenging Palazzo in the fall primaries, and commissioned a pole on Palazzo’s favorability, and the potential challenger was floored by the results, and declined to challenge Palazzo based on that poll.

The poll showed that Palazzo had an 80 percent favorability rating in the fourth district, an almost insurmountable position to be in. The poll meant that of those 80 percent who voted, they would be inclined to vote for Palazzo.

During the first year of Palazzo’s term, some Tea Party members fell out with him, saying he was not conservative enough, but Palazzo retorted that he was as conservative as he needed to be and would not take a “meat ax” approach and gut defense and some programs upon which the elderly depend.

Sources close to Palazzo say he is not completely satisfied with the GOP leadership but has to compromise in some areas to move up the totem pole. As majority assistant whip, he is part of that leadership in his first term.

But being a Marine, he is adamant on supporting the military and says planned mandatory cuts would gut defense, and put the nation at risk internationally.

Palazzo, 42, is a member of the House Armed Services Committee and a subcommittee chairman on the House Science and Technology Committee, which handles matters affecting NASA and Stennis Space Center in Hancock County, only 12 miles southeast of Picayune.

Stennis, which not only does work for NASA, is also a site where many government agencies operate, such as the Navy’s oceanographic service command, and where Navy Seals train, utilizing ideal riverine terrain along the Pearl River. A portion of the movie, “Act of Valor,” was filmed at Stennis, which is a prime economic mainstay for the Gulf Coast.

In a recent interview, Palazzo told the Associated Press, “I’m fighting hard to maintain America’s leadership in space and to continue to guarantee that the path back to space goes through South Mississippi, as it has done for the past 50 years.”

The Democratic challenger, Matthew Moore, 36, of Biloxi, an honors student at Gulf Coast Community College, and former Coast businessman, charges that Palazzo votes “too much along GOP party lines.”

Moore entered the race in September when the former Democratic nominee, Hattiesburg businessman Michael Herrington, withdrew for business and family reasons.

Moore told the AP, “I think that’s awfully arrogant to assume everyone in South Mississippi has such a right-wing, conservative viewpoint such as his,” Moore said. “. . .We’re the taxpayers and the taxpayers are the customers of government. We don’t just deserve better, we earned better.”

Also on the Nov. 6 ballot are two other challengers, Moss Point businessman Ron Williams, who ran for governor last year as a Republican and who is on the congressional ballot this time as a Libertarian, and the Reform Party’s Bob Claunch of Diamondhead. Claunch does not have a website and is hard to get in touch with.

Said Williams, “. . .I like others have realized that neither of the major parties, the Democrats or Republicans, are capable of putting the good of our country ahead of their special interests, supporters and campaign contributors.”

Federal judges redrew Mississippi’s four U.S. House districts in late 2011, to reflect population changes that occurred in the last decade.

The fourth district stretches about 130 miles at its longest point south of Meridian to the beaches of Gulfport and Biloxi, and includes 13 counties in their entirety and part of Clarke County just below Meridian.

The district includes Hattiesburg and now has all of Marion and Jones counties but lost a portion of Jasper County.

The district’s economy relies on the military, since it includes Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi and Camp Shelby near Hattiesburg, and Stennis Space Center near Picayune. Ingalls Shipbuilding, a defense contractor in Pascagoula that is Mississippi’s largest private employer, is also included in the district.

Palazzo reported $256,013 campaign cash on-hand as of June 30, and his three challengers show no campaign funds war chests, according to reports on the website of the Federal Election Commission.

(An Associated Press dispatch by Emily Wagster Pettus was used in the compilation of this report.)