A diverse field of candidates, ranging from Jackson-area-professionals, to small town business owners to east Mississippi chicken farmers, are vying for the 3rd District U.S. House seat.

While much of the statewide election focus has been on the special Senate election to replace 80-year-old Thad Cochran, who resigned earlier this year for health reasons, the 3rd District race also will be a key Mississippi contest because it is the only U.S. House seat where the incumbent is not seeking re-election. Republican Gregg Harper of Pearl, who has served four terms as the 3rd District congressman, opted not to run again.

The incumbents are heavy favorites to win re-election in the other three Mississippi House districts.

The 3rd, like three of the state’s House districts, is considered a safe Republican district. Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the district by a 61-percent to-37 percent margin in 2016.

At a recent candidate’s forum at the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum in Jackson, hosted by multiple agriculture-related groups, including the influential Farm Bureau, most of the six Republican candidates tried to align themselves with Trump.

“We can send a president to D.C. to turn things around and we have done that,” said Republican Sally Doty of Brookhaven, an attorney who is in her second term in the state Senate. “We can send a House member to support him.”

Michael Guest of Rankin County, the district attorney for much of suburban Jackson, said he would work with the president “to lower taxes and to remove regulations.”

The other four Republican candidates are Morgan Dunn of Magee, a small business owner and health care consultant; Whit Hughes of Madison, a former basketball and baseball player at Mississippi State University, who has worked as deputy director of the Mississippi Development Authority and as an administrator with Baptist Health Systems; Perry Parker of Seminary, a cattle farmer, who also worked extensively in finance; and Katherine Tate, a Tupelo native, who has worked as a Jackson Public School teacher and as Mississippi’s first arts education supervisor.

The 3rd District encompasses some of the state’s most rural areas as it stretches from the southwest Mississippi border with Louisiana all the way up to Oktibbeha County. It also includes both of the state’s land grant or agriculture-related universities – Mississippi State in Starkville and Alcorn State in Lorman.

But the district also includes a large portion of populous metro Jackson, including the suburbs in Madison and Rankin counties.

Those areas have been strongholds for Republicans. But in recent races across the nation, Democrats have made significant inroads with suburban voters.

For a Democrat to pull what would be a monumental upset in the 3rd, they would have to garner a significant share of those suburban voters in November.

Two Democrats are hoping to accomplish that feat. They both are products of rural east-central Mississippi. Michael Aycock of Newton is a political novice. The Navy veteran grew up on a farm and serves as an investigator with the Newton Police Department.

“I love my country. I love my state. That is why I am running,” he said.

The other Democrat is Michael Evans, a second term state House member from Preston. Evans, a poultry farmer and former Philadelphia firefighter, is known in the state House for his country humor.

At the recent event sponsored by the agriculture associations, he had attendees laughing as he told them his wife really wanted him to win because she is tired of working on the chicken farm.

Evans, and even many of the Republican candidates, expressed concerns with Trump’s proposed tariffs, which could negatively impact Mississippi farmers if countries retaliate against the United States.

“Tariffs,” Evans said. “I don’t know why that word was brought up when it affects farmers so much.”

Said Hughes, “I support the president, and I want him to be a success,” but he had some disagreements with him on the issue of trade.

“I will work to ensure existing and future trade agreements are free and fair – allowing Mississippi businesses to thrive in a global economy,” said Hughes in prepared remarks all of the candidates were allowed to present to the attendees.

“I support President Trump,” Parker said. “I don’t support tariffs.”

Guest like many of the candidates – Republican and Democrat – attacked federal regulations.

“I will fight to roll back burdensome regulations and limit unnecessary federal requirements on our farmers, ranchers and small businesses,” he said.

Dunn attacked the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, saying working in health care, she had seen the negative impact it has had on rural health care.

“President Trump does not need another politician,” she said. “He does not need another lawyer. He needs someone with business sense and common sense. I am your gal.”

Tate said as a teacher she had seen how government can “get out of control in regards to its original purpose and mission.” She said she would work to prevent that.

Tate said while she hopes the farmers can be protected, she did not say she opposed tariffs.

“We need, not just free trade, but fair trade,” she said.

Parker has been the leading fundraiser among the candidates, based on the most recent reports. He said his work in the financial services sector worldwide has given him the expertise to work with diverse groups to get things done. But he said his roots are in agriculture in Mississippi.

He said he is running for the office “because Mississippi has been good to me.”

Said Doty, the state senator, “I know how to get legislation passed. That is what is really important.”

All of the candidates participated in the ag forum with the exception of the Reform Party candidate, Matthew Holland.

— By Bobby Harrison