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Democratic youth meets GOP experience in Mississippi race

October 25, 2018 GMT
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In this May 13, 2014 file photograph, U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., addresses an audience in Waveland, Miss. Palazzo, the incumbent for Mississippi's Fourth Congressional District seat, faces two opponents in the general election next month. (Tim Isbell/The Sun Herald via AP, File)
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In this May 13, 2014 file photograph, U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., addresses an audience in Waveland, Miss. Palazzo, the incumbent for Mississippi's Fourth Congressional District seat, faces two opponents in the general election next month. (Tim Isbell/The Sun Herald via AP, File)

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Incumbent U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo says he’s building experience that will benefit south Mississippi’s 4th Congressional district, warning that “You can’t just come in and light the world on fire” in Congress.

But that’s exactly what Democratic challenger and state Rep. Jeramey Anderson of Moss Point is trying to do.

Anderson and Palazzo clash on a familiar range of issues, but the challenger is trying to engage voters in a district where Palazzo won 65 percent and President Donald Trump won nearly 70 percent of the votes in 2016. Anderson was elected to the state House as the youngest lawmaker in state history at 21. Now he’s trying to move on to Congress at the age of 26, asking voters, “Why should I have to wait my turn?”

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Palazzo says voters should send him back to Washington for a fifth term representing a district covering 14 counties from Laurel to the Gulf Coast, because “my experience, after eight years, has become invaluable.”

“Obviously, I was sent here to strengthen the military and get the economy going again,” the 48-year-old Palazzo said. “A lot of things I was sent here to do alongside President Trump have become a reality and now we need to protect them.”

Also running is Reform Party member Lajena Sheets.

Palazzo touts his place on the House Appropriations Committee, especially when it comes to bolstering spending that flows to military bases and to Ingalls Shipbuilding, with its more than 12,000 employees in Pascagoula.

The money raised in the race reflects an experience gap. Palazzo has raised nearly $700,000 since the start of 2017 and reported $362,000 on hand as of Sept. 30 according to Federal Election Commission filings. Anderson has raised $131,000 and had $13,000 on hand.

Palazzo continues to disdain the health insurance overhaul passed by a Democratic Congress under former President Barack Obama, arguing that, “I just don’t think the government should be in the business of providing health care.”

Palazzo said he makes exceptions to that rule for Medicare and Medicaid. Those two programs made up half of health care spending in Mississippi in 2014, the last year for which overall figures are available. When questioned further on how health care should be handled, Palazzo said he was done answering questions on health care.

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Anderson, citing a recent tour of a rural hospital in Richton, says Mississippi should expand Medicaid coverage to adults who aren’t currently eligible. “I think that is something that would help save our rural hospitals.” Mississippi’s Republican leaders have spurned expanded health benefits, claiming the state can’t afford it.

The Democratic challenger also says he’d like to see the federal government increase the minimum wage, which has been $7.25 an hour since 2009, to at least $9 an hour. Anderson also says he wants changes in the way judges sentence criminals. He says mandatory minimum sentences should be eliminated and federal judges should get more freedom to sentence as they want.

Palazzo touts tax cuts for corporations and individuals passed by Congress as “phenomenal” for his district. He supports Trump’s policies of placing tariffs on goods from countries the president says trade unfairly with the United States, saying they address the “bullies and pickpockets” of international trade.

The incumbent declined to outline his differences with Anderson, saying, “I don’t engage in discussing my opponents.” Anderson hits him for that lack of engagement, saying Palazzo is remote, only sees one side of issues and is not good at listening to constituents.

“He doesn’t campaign because he feels like he doesn’t have to,” Anderson said.

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Follow Jeff Amy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jeffamy .