"Retire Pelosi. Contribute to Steven Palazzo." That is the opening message at PalazzoForCongress.com in his battle to unseat 21-year incumbent Congressman Gene Taylor (D-Bay St. Louis) in Mississippi's Fourth Congressional District. Republicans will choose between Palazzo (R-Biloxi) and Joe Tegerdine (R-Petal) in the June 1 primary to pick their nominee for this Republican leaning district rated as likely Democrat.

Palazzo currently serves as a State Representative (District 116) from Harrison County. After serving in the Marine Corps Reserves in the Middle East during the Persian Gulf War, Palazzo returned to Mississippi with a first hand view of taxation concerns facing Americans working abroad. He and his wife founded an accounting firm specializing in expatriate taxation, which now serves more than 2000 clients in 25 countries. Currently Palazzo serves in the Mississippi National Guard.

Palazzo won the special election for his State House seat in 2006 with 64 percent of the vote in a three-way race to avoid a run-off and complete the term of Leonard Bentz. (Governor Haley R. Barbour had appointed Bentz to fill a vacated seat on the Public Service Commission.) In 2007, Palazzo was unopposed for reelection in the primary and general election. Palazzo has built a reputation in the House as a committed low-tax, job-focused conservative.

Tegerdine sports a "G.I. Joe" styled campaign logo with the message, "The Time Is Now." Tegerdine serves as Senior Director of Business Development for WNC Satcom Group, a satellite communication company in Hattiesburg.

Tegerdine is Mormon, a growing and very conservative element in the Republican Party that garnered greater acceptance by evangelical GOPers following the presidential campaign of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. A number of Mississippi Republican leaders embraced Romney including then Rankin County Republican Party Chairman - now Third District Congressman - Gregg Harper.

Tegerdine has Taylor's attention. According to The Picayune Item, Tegerdine claims that at a recent USM event Taylor accused him of hacking his web site and claimed there was a federal investigation regarding the matter. Tegerdine denies involvement. Then in response to Tegerdine's claim that the incumbent Democrat is "a closet liberal" Taylor said, according to The Item, "Tell him I said he is a liar."

Tegerdine's top issue against Palazzo pertains to a vote in the legislature on eminent domain: a vote Tegerdine claims threatens individual property rights, but that Palazzo maintains is a limited mechanism necessary for job creation. Meanwhile Palazzo sites his proven record of public service, and has remained relatively quite regarding his primary opponent.

Both seek to challenge Taylor and point to his support of the Democratic Majority in Congress and his vote for Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

Taylor first ran for this seat in 1988 when Trent Lott vacated it to run for (and win) a U.S. Senate seat. Taylor, a former councilman of Bay St. Louis and a state Senator, won the Democratic nomination against Republican Harrison County Sheriff Larkin Smith. Smith won with 55 percent of the vote, but died ten months later in a plane crash. Taylor ran again in the 1989 special election facing Lott aide Tommy Anderson and then Attorney General Mike Moore. Moore placed third leaving Taylor and Anderson in the run-off that Taylor won with 65 percent of the vote. Taylor's two decades in Congress makes him the current elder Representative from Mississippi.

Since then, Taylor has posted strong numbers for reelection. As a freshman he won reelection in 1990 with 81 percent of the vote and in five of his subsequent elections he posted 75 percent or higher. Only Republican Dennis Dollar in 1996 has held Taylor under 60 percent and even then the incumbent mustered a safe 58 percent of the vote.

It is hard to beat an incumbent congressman in Mississippi. Republican Prentiss Walker did it in 1964 on the coattails of GOP Presidential Nominee Barry Goldwater who carried Mississippi with nearly 88 percent of the vote. Democrat Mike Espy did it in 1986, following the Justice Department ordered redistricting of the incumbent's district earlier that year. Republican Chip Pickering did it in 2002; but he himself was also an incumbent when two districts were combined.

Mississippi's Fourth District is a Republican area. George W. Bush carried it in 2000 and 2004 with 64 and 68 percent of the vote respectively; John McCain carried it in 2008 with 67 percent of the vote at the same time that Taylor won reelection with almost 75 percent.

It is a Republican district; but in the past Republicans have voted for Gene Taylor. It will be up to either Tegerdine or Palazzo to convince them to do otherwise. Voters will make that choice in the election which also features Libertarian Kenneth "Tim" Hampton and Anna Jewel Revies of the Reform Party (both of Hattiesburg) in November.


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