By JEFF AMY
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Michael Ted Evans is out on his tractor, appealing to the rural people of Mississippi's 3rd Congressional District to consider voting for a Democrat.
But it's not clear that will be enough. The state representative from Preston faces longtime District Attorney Michael Guest, whose district in the Jackson suburbs of Rankin and Madison counties powered the Republican to victory in a competitive GOP nomination contest.
Evans, Guest and Reform Party member Matthew Holland are vying Nov. 6 to succeed U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper, another Rankin County Republican who is retiring after representing the district for 10 years.
The district runs diagonally across the state through 24 counties from Natchez through Madison and Rankin County suburbs and farther northeast to Starkville.
"I believe it's important for the seat that we elect someone who's a conservative," Guest said.
Evans, though pushing a populist message aimed at rural residents, is not exactly a liberal. He has voiced distaste for Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and opposition to abortion. The 43-year-old Evans, a chicken farmer and volunteer firefighter, said he's also disappointed by the "party mess" and how dug in people are in their partisan identities.
"If they put the party issues away and just look at the person who relates to them the most, they would pick me every time," he said. "I'm going to Washington to do exactly what's best for the people of Mississippi and I don't care what the Democrats want and what the Republicans want."
To that end, Evans is driving his 80-horsepower blue New Holland tractor from town to town trying to talk to voters.
That approach also fits the disparity in resources. Guest has raised $814,000 so far this year, according to Federal Election Commission reports, with $88,000 on hand as of Sept. 30. Evans' campaign finance reports don't show up on the FEC website. He says he's raised less than $30,000 so far.
Guest has repeatedly cited his 11 years as district attorney and his record when asked why people should vote for him.
"You have to have the heart to go in there and fight for the people," he said.
He also is pushing himself as someone who would seek stronger immigration enforcement in Congress, saying it would help decrease illegal drugs.
Guest, though, says he also would support a guest worker program that would help farmers and others hire labor from abroad.
The Republican is more cautious on President Donald Trump's trade policy, saying he's heard from manufacturers who are having to pay more for materials and parts. Guest declined to oppose the tariffs outright, though, saying he needs to "better educate" himself.
He said he supports Congress finishing work on a farm bill and isn't advocating for food stamp cuts. He has "no issue" with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, he said.
Evans, though, said downward pressure on soybean prices from the inability to sell to China could cripple farmers. They need "a solution to this tariff deal," he said.
"Our farmers cannot survive on $7 (per bushel) soybeans," he said.
Evans said that if a confrontation with China is truly necessary, the U.S. should be doing more to market soybeans to other countries. He says the same of chicken, Mississippi's most valuable agricultural economy and one Evans grows.
Guest and Evans both say they support higher infrastructure spending. Guest supports more consumer choice in health care, while Evans focuses on broader insurance coverage. Mississippi has refused to expand Medicaid to most adults as envisioned by President Barack Obama's health overhaul.
"We've got to do something to where people in Mississippi can afford health insurance because our rural hospitals are really struggling," Evans said.
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