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Ezell, Wicker facing challengers in Mississippi primary

Votes for McCarthy and vaccinating pilots come under attack from Ezell’s GOP opponent

A primary opponent to Rep. Mike Ezell, R-Miss., attacked him for voting to support Kevin McCarthy for speaker of the House.
A primary opponent to Rep. Mike Ezell, R-Miss., attacked him for voting to support Kevin McCarthy for speaker of the House. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Mississippi freshman Rep. Mike Ezell has been attacked for voting — “16 times” — for Kevin McCarthy as speaker, while a new super PAC created on Feb. 21 started spending last week to oppose Sen. Roger Wicker.

Ezell and Wicker both have the endorsement of former President Donald Trump and have outspent their opponents significantly ahead of Tuesday’s primaries. But their challenges, on an otherwise sleepy primary ballot, highlight how seemingly safe Republicans have come under fire this cycle. 

Ezell, a former sheriff, is seeking a second term in the 4th District after ousting six-term Rep. Steven Palazzo in 2022 by railing against his ethics. Now, Ezell faces businessman Carl Boyanton and Army veteran Michael McGill. Boyanton placed fifth in a seven-way primary for the seat in 2022 and later endorsed Ezell in a runoff. He also previously ran for the seat in 2020. 

Boyanton argues that Ezell isn’t conservative enough, and has aired ads where he’s labeled Ezell as a “busy bee” who voted with former Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi to raise the debt limit and supported requirements that airline pilots be vaccinated against COVID-19. He also criticizes Ezell for voting to make McCarthy speaker of the House in January 2023, when opposition from roughly a dozen GOP colleagues led to a prolonged election process. 

“Since getting to Washington, well, he’s been a busy bee for the establishment,” Boyanton said in one ad.

Jonathan Bailey, Ezell’s campaign manager, said candidates in 2022 were asked at a forum if they would consider voting for someone other than McCarthy, but that Ezell never committed to not voting for him. 

In his own ads, Ezell is touting Trump’s endorsement and said he’s “fighting against the radical left’s agenda that would take our country down the wrong path.” 

“Since Day One I’ve always worked hard. I’ve represented the people well. I’ve tried to respond to as many constituents as possible,” Ezell said in a recent local news interview. “We’ve been able to meet the needs of the people and I’m asking for your help March 12. We feel good about it, we’re going to keep working hard every day.”

Boyanton, a produce businessman who put more than $500,000 of his own money into the campaign, had more cash on hand than Ezell as of Feb. 21, the latest disclosures with the Federal Election Commission show. Boyanton had $368,000 on hand while Ezell had $172,000. But Ezell had spent $641,000 since the election cycle began compared to Boyanton’s $163,000. McGill, meanwhile, had $2,000 on hand as of March 3. 

Since that pre-election FEC filing, Ezell reported receiving donations from several House colleagues, including Indiana Rep. Erin Houchin, South Carolina Rep. Jeff Duncan, New York Rep. Nick LaLota, Alabama Rep. Dale Strong and Missouri Rep. Jason Smith. He also received donations from PACs with ties to fellow Mississippi Reps. Trent Kelly and Michael Guest. 

There’s been little outside spending in the leadup to the race. The Conservative Candidate Caucus spent $6,500 on texting to support Boyanton. 

The winner will face Democrat Craig Raybon, who is unopposed in his primary, in November. 

Wicker well-funded

Wicker, a former seven-term House member first elected to the Senate in 2008, faces retired Col. Ghannon Burton and state Rep. Dan Eubanks.

In addition to Wicker’s long political history, he also has a significant fundraising advantage. Wicker had raised $7.5 million for his reelection campaign and had $4.2 million on hand as of Feb. 21. Eubanks had $49,000 on hand and Burton had $40,000.

But Wicker’s campaign spent nearly $1.8 million since January, and a super PAC, Elect Principled Veterans Fund, has spent $347,000 on television ads to support him. A group America First Priorities PAC first registered in February and has not disclosed raising any money, but last week reported spending $22,000 to oppose Wicker. 

Attorney Ty Pinkins is running unopposed in the Democratic Senate primary Tuesday. Pinkins previously ran for Mississippi secretary of state in 2023, losing to Michael Watson. 

Other incumbents unopposed

In the state’s three other House districts, Democrat Bennie Thompson and Republicans Guest and Kelly are not opposed in the primary.

No Democrat filed to challenge Guest in the 3rd District, so his nomination Tuesday virtually ensures his reelection in November.

There are two Democrats vying in the primary to challenge Kelly in the 1st District and three Republicans vying for the nomination to take on Thompson in the 2nd District.

The November race for Thompson’s seat is rated Solid Democratic by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales. All the other House seats and Wicker’s Senate seat are rated Solid Republican.

Candidates in the primary need to get more than 50 percent of the vote or face a runoff for the nomination April 2.

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