By CALEB BEDILLION / Daily Journal 

Democratic candidates in Mississippi’s 1st Congressional District continue to generate modest, slow returns on efforts to finance a pair of underdog campaigns to unseat Republican incumbent Rep. Trent Kelly.

The Federal Elections Commission requires quarterly reports from candidates for federal office, with the most recent reports due this week. Those reports show Kelly is likely to face his most well-financed challenger since taking office, though he maintains a significant lead in financial resources.

In 2016, only one Democratic candidate ran against Kelly and did so with virtually no money. That same year, Kelly also defeated a Republican primary opponent who likewise ran with almost no financial backing.

Now, at least two Democratic candidates are competing to take Kelly on in the 2018 mid-term elections, which often act as a barometer of the national mood as a president nears the halfway point of a term.

A chemistry professor at the University of Mississippi, Randy Wadkins declared for the race earlier this spring, betting only months into President Donald Trump’s tenure that a backlash against the GOP could sweep the nation next year, penetrating even into deep-red Mississippi.

Since he began campaigning, the Oxford-based Wadkins has received just under $33,000 in total donations. Most of that money came in during a burst of small-donor gifts during the first three months of his campaign. A distinct slowdown in the pace of money has occurred since then.

From July 1 to Sept. 30, Wadkins brought in only a bit more than $6,000.

As was true on his first FEC report earlier this year, many donations to Wadkins continue to come from individuals connected to the University of Mississippi, where Wadkins is employed.

Carlton E. Smith, of Holly Springs only officially kicked off his candidacy early this week, with quiet campaign efforts getting underway a bit earlier in September. Through the end of that month, Smith reports total campaign revenue of $1,750 but has also loaned his own campaign $20,000 at its very outset.

Candidates typically advance their campaign money with the expectation that subsequent contributions will be used to repay the loan.

Smith nonetheless reports having already spent $22,944 on campaign expenses, most of it to acquire campaign software.

Wadkins has spent about $9,400 on campaign expenses, and by the end of September was holding cash reserves of about $23,000.

Neither Smith nor Wadkins have received any donations from political action committees.

In an interview earlier this year, Wadkins acknowledged that most PACs he has approached do not view the 1st Congressional District as competitive for a Democratic candidate and are loathe to put any money into the race.

Indeed, finance reports show that Kelly’s campaign funding dwarfs his would-be Democratic rivals.

From July to September, the incumbent received about $96,500 in campaign contributions. His total earnings for the current election cycle stand at $317,400.

In the three month period from July to September, Kelly spent $82,490 while his total spending for this election cycle thus far amounts to $273,712.

At the end of September Kelly’s cash on hand total was approximately $120,000.

For the whole election cycle thus far, Kelly has received about 55 percent of his donations from individuals with the remainder of donations coming from PACs.

Kelly’s PAC donations break down into several groups. He sits on the agriculture and armed services committees and his donor list includes defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Raytheon as well as agricultural giant Monsanto and poultry interests.

He also receives a number of donations from committees linked back to the state, including Toyota, which operates a manufacturing facility in the 1st District, legal firm Butler Snow and shipyard Huntington Ingalls.

Routine contributors to Kelly’s campaigns also include committees linked to the banking, energy and medical fields.