By Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi’s longest-serving current member of Congress, Democrat Bennie Thompson, won’t be debating his two challengers before the Nov. 6 general election, but he says constituents get plenty of chances to see him and discuss his record because he’s out in the 2nd District every day.
Thompson, 64, is the top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee. He had already been Bolton mayor and a Hinds County supervisor when he first won a 1993 special election to Congress. As has been the case for most of his re-election efforts, Thompson has significantly more campaign cash than his opponents this year.
He faces a Republican he defeated two years ago, Bill Marcy, 66, of Vicksburg, who is courting tea party voters; and independent Cobby Mondale Williams, 36, of Canton, who’s trying to appeal to younger voters.
Marcy is a former Chicago police officer who retired as regional vice president of Interstate Security Systems in Chicago. He was born and raised in Chicago and spent summers visiting his grandmother in Mississippi. He moved to Meridian, Miss., in 2001 and to Vicksburg in 2010.
Williams grew up in Jackson and Canton. He is an urban planner and has worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the State Department and the District of Columbia Department of Transportation. Williams said in 2011 that he intended to run for Congress as a Democrat, but he later filed to run without a party label.
Thompson defeated former Greenville Mayor Heather McTeer in the Democratic primary in March.
The Federal Election Commission website says that as of June 30, Thompson had spent about $1.3 million on his campaign and still had roughly that amount on hand; Marcy had spent $5,247 and had $5,853 on hand; and Williams had spent $7,951 and had $2,114 on hand. Candidates’ next finance reporting deadline is Oct. 15.
The 2nd District includes most of Jackson and stretches through the Delta and 200 miles along the Mississippi River, from Tunica County in the north to Jefferson County in the south. The mostly rural district includes all of 24 counties and parts of two, and it has cotton and soybean farms that are essential to the state’s economy.
Federal judges last year redrew the state’s four U.S. House district to reflect population changes revealed by the 2010 Census. The 2nd, which remains the state’s only majority-black congressional district, and all three candidates are black.
The 2nd now has three new counties: Panola, Yalobusha and Grenada. It also has all of Leake County instead of only part of it. Parts of Hinds and Madison counties were realigned between the 2nd and 3rd districts.
Marcy said he has campaigned in all parts of the district but is concentrating intently on Panola, Yalobusha and Grenada counties.
“We’re getting a lot of those folks don’t want to be in Bennie Thompson’s district for obvious reasons,” Marcy said. “They realize the reason that the district had to be expanded was because of lack of economic development in that district… They don’t want to be part of lack of economic development.”
Thompson has announced a flurry of federal grants for the district in the past several weeks, including larger ones such as $2.3 million for the John Bell Williams Airport at Hinds Community College and smaller ones such as $71,140 for Humphreys County to buy a tractor and a mower and $45,000 for the tiny town of Friars Point to buy two police cars.
However, Marcy and Williams say Thompson has done too little to help one of the poorest congressional districts in the nation. Williams said he had voted for Thompson in the past, but “at this point, I’m fed up.”
“Holmes County — there’s no way it should be the poorest in America,” Williams said. “It’s a disgrace.”
Thompson responded by citing his support of Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, Social Security, Pell grants and federally guaranteed student loans.
“I didn’t create poverty,” Thompson said, “but I’ve supported programs that provide a safety net.”
Thompson voted for the 2010 federal health care overhaul, the Affordable Care Act, which he said “will have positive outcomes for our state.” Conservative critics call the law too expensive and unwieldy, and state Republican leaders say they oppose an expansion of Medicaid under the law, which is optional.
Williams, who’s making his first run for Congress, said he wants to improve infrastructure and education in the 2nd District, and to provide incentives for private businesses to do a better job of distributing fresh produce in areas where there are too few grocery stores.
“I’m here for the 21st century and not the 20th century,” Williams said.