Twenty-six candidates representing the Democratic, Republican, Reform, Libertarian and Constitution Parties - as well as a handful of independents - met the March 1 qualifying deadline to run for the U.S. House of Representatives from Mississippi. No incumbent has a party primary challenger, but Republican and Democratic challengers must first clear the June 1 Primary hurdle before facing the incumbents on November 2.

If the number of candidates in a race indicates public dissatisfaction with the incumbent, then First Congressional District Representative Travis Childers (D-Booneville) has a long row to hoe. Ten candidates filed to run against Childers including Libertarian Harold Taylor of Hernando, Barbara Dale Washer of Hattiesburg from the Reform Party, Gail Giaramita of Lake Cormorant from the Constitution Party, and four independents: A.G. Baddley and Les Green both of Hernando, and Rick "Rico" Hoskins and Wally Pang both of Batesville. Pang ran for this seat in 2008 earning 1.1 percent in both the April Special and November General elections.

Whoever the Republicans pick as their nominee will offer substantial competition to Childers. National pundits rate this race a "toss-up" and one of the GOP's best opportunities to unseat a Democratic incumbent. Senate Appropriations Chairman Alan Nunnelee of Tupelo, Fox News personality Angela McGlowan of Oxford, and former mayor Henry Ross of Eupora filed as Republicans.

Conventional wisdom places Nunnelee, who raised $420,000 in 2009 for the campaign, as the front runner. Governor Haley Barbour contributed to Nunnelee and visits from Republican strategist Karl Rove and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee helped launch his campaign. McGlowan knows good television and so far her campaign embraces the medium's need for drama: comments she made months before her kick-off in which she advocated for the registration of firearms on federal tax forms continues to mire her campaign in reversals and clarifications. Ross's studious and steady campaign has pledged to be positive only but needs to create a compelling campaign narrative to rise apart from the Nunnelee frontrunner and McGlowan drama currently driving this primary race.

Second Congressional District incumbent Bennie Thompson (D-Bolton) will face Reform Party candidate Ashley Norwood of Clinton, and the Republican nominee in the general election. Republicans Bill Marcy of Meridian, Richard Cook of Byram, and George Bailey of Clinton will compete for their spot on the ballot.

Cook lost his challenge to Thompson in 2008 earning only 31 percent of the vote. Marcy placed last in a seven man Republican Primary in the Third Congressional District in 2008 and made the run-off in a special election last year for Mississippi House District 82 before losing to now Representative Wilbert Jones (D-Meridian). Were Marcy to win the primary, the former law enforcement official would be an active campaigner against Thompson. But Thompson's nearly eighteen year incumbency, election machine, and $1.9 million war chest makes a close contest highly unlikely.

Republican Rep. Gregg Harper of Pearl is as safe in the Third Congressional District as is Thompson in the Second. Harper will face Reform Party candidate Tracella Lou O'Hara Hill from Petal, and the winner of the Democratic Primary between Joel Gill of Pickens, James Jackson of Brandon, and Shawn O'Hara of Hattiesburg. Gill lost to Harper in the 2008 General Election by 62.5 to 37.5 percent.

Nothing requires a candidate to actually live in the congressional district in which he is running. This year five candidates will not even be able to vote for their self. Washer, Hill and O'Hara - all from the Fourth District's Hattiesburg - have qualified for races in the First and Third Districts. Marcy from the Third District's Meridian is running in the Second District; and Gill - mayor of the Second District's Pickens - will be running in the Third District.

Only the Fourth Congressional District features candidates only from that district. Representative Gene Taylor (D-Bay St. Louis) will face Libertarian Kenneth "Tim" Hampton and the Reform Party's Anna Jewel Revies (both of Hattiesburg) on the ballot, as well as the winner of the Republican contest between state Representative Steven Palazzo of Biloxi and Joe Tegerdine, a satellite communication company vice president.

Taylor represents one of the most conservative districts in the country but has retained his seat since his 1989 election by embracing the maverick spirit of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. When his national party's leader President Bill Clinton faced scandal and shame, Taylor called for his resignation. When his state party's leader Governor Ronnie Musgrove campaigned for a new state flag, Taylor said the old one suited him just fine. He would likely be as at home in the GOP as the Democratic Party, but would surely give either party fits. Taylor likely will be reelected, but Palazzo or Tegerdine could at least make the campaign interesting.

For that matter, these twenty-six candidates across the state will make all the 2010 congressional races worth watching.

Brian Perry is a partner in a public affairs firm. Contact him at reasonablyright@brianperry.ms.