Hit over ethics charges, Palazzo loses Mississippi primary

Winner Mike Ezell ran on an ‘America First’ platform

Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., lost his primary Tuesday after facing attacks over ethics issues and being a "no-show" Congressman. .  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., lost his primary Tuesday after facing attacks over ethics issues and being a "no-show" Congressman. . (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted June 28, 2022 at 10:01pm, Updated at 10:59pm

Mississippi GOP Rep. Steven M. Palazzo lost his seat Tuesday in a primary runoff against a Jackson County sheriff who attacked him for alleged ethical lapses and “no-show” representation in Washington. 

Sheriff Mike Ezell was leading Palazzo, 53 percent to 47 percent, when The Associated Press called the race at 8:55 p.m. Eastern time with an estimated 84 percent of the vote counted. 

Ezell finished second in the seven-way primary on June 7, with 25 percent of the vote to 32 percent for Palazzo. Mississippi requires candidates get more than 50 percent for an outright win in primaries. 

The other Republican candidates subsequently endorsed Ezell, saying their top priority was seeing Palazzo lose his seat. 

Ezell has spent his career in law enforcement and was first elected to the sheriff’s office in 2014. He campaigned as an “America First” candidate who supported law enforcement, gun rights, and former President Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall along the southern border. He also described himself as “100 percent” opposed to abortion rights.  

Palazzo tried to step up appearances in the district during the three-week runoff contest, pointing to his record of inviting constituents to telephone town halls, and agreeing to a debate last week, the first time he had debated an opponent since he was elected 12 years ago. Palazzo reported $337,000 in contributions since the primary, compared to $171,000 for Ezell. 

Palazzo has faced ethical scrutiny for allegedly spending campaign money on personal expenses, asking official staff to perform personal and campaign-related tasks and misusing his position to boost his brother’s Naval career.

The allegations against Palazzo surfaced after a 2019 primary challenger noticed irregularities in his campaign finance reports and hired a private investigator, who turned his findings over to the Campaign Legal Center. The nonprofit watchdog group filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics, Mississippi Today reported. The OCE detailed its findings in a report released in 2021 and handed the matter to the House Ethics Committee, which has said it is looking into the allegations. 

Palazzo is a former Marine reservist who has advocated for the shipyards and military bases that employ thousands of his constituents. Palazzo worked as a certified public accountant before coming to Congress, specializing in tax returns for Americans living abroad, background that he has called upon as a member of the Appropriations Committee. With seats on the Homeland Security and Commerce, Justice and Science  subcommittees, he has largely focused his efforts on border security and space operations.

Palazzo is the fifth Republican to lose a primary this year. Illinois Rep. Rodney Davis was also defeated Tuesday, and Reps. Tom Rice of South Carolina, Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina and David B. McKinley of West Virginia lost earlier primaries.