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With strong community support, is Michael Guest frontrunner in 3rd Congressional District election?

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Republican nominee Michael Guest moves toward the general election in Mississippi’s 3rd Congressional District with a big advantage: the electoral dynamo of his home county.

Support from Rankin County turned what would have been a comfortable victory for the 48-year-old Guest into a blowout over runoff opponent Whit Hughes.

The county provided more than a quarter of the votes in Tuesday’s election, and gave 80 percent of those ballots to the Brandon resident, who has served as district attorney for Rankin and Madison counties for 22 years. Guest also won handily in Madison County.

Guest will face Democratic state Rep. Michael Ted Evans of Preston and Reform Party member Matthew Holland in November. Democratic leaders have voiced high hopes for Evans, a down-home populist and chicken farmer with a rollicking speaking style.

Guest says his top issues are increased border protection as well as a crackdown on drug smuggling, plus improved infrastructure. Although he says he supports President Donald Trump when asked, Guest hasn’t made the president a central figure in his race.

Evans has been focusing his appeal on rural areas, but the voting strength of the Jackson suburbs in the district could raise questions about that strategy. The district stretches diagonally across 24 counties in the middle of Mississippi from Wilkinson County all the way to Starkville, and Guest won in 16 of those counties on Tuesday.

Rankin County emerged as a bedrock of Republican support in the state nearly 30 years ago, when voters there helped power Kirk Fordice to the governor’s chair. It’s also the home county of Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves. Guest is running for the seat because another Rankin County resident, U.S. Rep Gregg Harper, is retiring after 10 years in Congress.

Guest has run a low-key campaign, partly in recognition of his front-runner status. Although he took part in forums before the June 6 primary, he avoided debating Hughes in the runoff.

“What we hope to do is try to unite all the conservatives behind our candidacy as we go forward in November and continue to keep the 3rd Congressional District in Republican hands,” he said Tuesday night.

He’s relied on his tenure as a prosecutor, saying he’s been “a proven fighter for the last 22 years.”

That familiarity appealed to many voters, including 76-year-old retiree Gerald Smith of Madison.

“He has a track record, which is one of the things that I liked about him,” Smith said.