Dispatch from a Michael Cassidy town hall
BRANDON, Miss. (WLBT) - “Can you expand on your background? Like, how did you get here? I mean, I don’t know anything about you.”
It was Thursday, June 23, and Michael Cassidy was hosting a town hall at a small church in Brandon, Mississippi. The town hall was just one in a series of events and interviews Cassidy had conducted in the weeks after his surprise showing in Mississippi’s primary election, beating the incumbent congressman Michael Guest by nearly 300 votes but not quite surpassing the 50-percent threshold that would have made him the victor.
The Republican primary runoff against Michael Cassidy and Michael Guest is set for Tuesday, June 28.
There were around 50 people in the church for the town hall who intermittently tossed questions to the 34-year-old Naval Reserve pilot who hopes to become the next congressman of Mississippi’s 3rd District. A cross hung on a wall behind him as he spoke and, in front of that cross, a seat reserved for Michael Guest lest he show up for an impromptu debate.
One of the first questions Cassidy received that night was a general one: Who are you?
There has been somewhat of an air of mystery surrounding Cassidy, who was virtually unknown until the near-upset on primary day. Cassidy also has no ties to the state. He has no wife and no children. His closest relative, a brother, lives in Florida.
As he told the crowd, his bio goes like this: He was born in Maryland and grew up in Virginia. He joined the military, flew jets for the Navy, and became a legal resident of Florida. He then became a flight instructor in Meridian in 2016, got off basic duty 18 months ago, and “stuck around.”
So how is a man with no political experience at all going into a runoff against a two-time incumbent who, just two years before, received 90-percent of the vote in the Republican primary for the same seat? According to Dr. Nathan Shrader, the director of American Studies at Millsaps College, Cassidy has an appealing profile: A veteran with a “pro-Trump” message who caught the Guest campaign by surprise.
“I’m not so sure that Michael Guest is not popular among Republicans,” he said. “I think that some Republicans simply saw Mr. Cassidy in action... and they said, ‘This is somebody we can support.’”
Shrader also makes the point that, at least ideologically, Guest and Cassidy have very little daylight between them. The difference is stylistic. Guest is reserved, thinking things through before wading into an issue, with the mind of a prosecutor, which Guest made a career of being before becoming a member of Congress.
Cassidy, on the other hand, is, as Dr. Shrader put it, hard-charging and “a little more in your face.” Cassidy has spoken openly of his admiration for those viewed, by some, to be on the fringes of the Republican party, such as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green and Rep. Jim Jordan. If elected, he has expressed interest in joining the House Freedom Caucus, the most conservative caucus in Congress.
To sum it up, Shrader put the differences between Guest and Cassidy this way: Guest is original-MAGA, Cassidy is ultra-MAGA.
Before the primary and now leading up to the runoff, a weapon Cassidy has utilized in the race is Guest’s voting record, most notably his vote for the January 6th Commission. This vote, Cassidy says, is what originally compelled him to run in the first place.
Guest has now had to answer for this vote a number of times on the campaign trail. The commission he voted for, Guest says, was much different than the January 6th Committee we know today. What he voted for was meant to be a 10-member, law-enforcement commission with limited subpoena power, both political parties appointing five members to it.
Even so, he was one of only 35 GOP House members who voted for it, with Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy openly opposing it. Donald Trump called it a “Democrat trap.”
But Guest has discovered weapons of his own against Cassidy, most being found on Cassidy’s own campaign website. Although no longer there, under a section entitled “The America Dream,” Cassidy had proposed providing $20,000 to newlyweds which would be paid back if the couple were to divorce. He also proposed allowing all citizens to enroll in Medicare.
According to an analysis by Mississippi Today, in all, Cassidy’s proposed spending programs would cost $48 trillion over ten years.
Guest has labeled this a “socialist agenda,” comparing Cassidy to the likes of Rep. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Cassidy himself was asked about this at the town hall, with a woman saying that her coworkers were apprehensive about his candidacy due these positions.
Cassidy said that he was simply brainstorming ideas for his campaign and putting them on his website. He said these ideas were never part of his “actual” campaign.
Another element of the election has been Cassidy’s being grounded by the Navy. This fact has been posted on a website dubbed The Real Michael Cassidy under the banner “The wrong choice for Mississippi.” The website is paid for by the group Friends of Michael Guest.
In an interview with Breitbart, Cassidy said he was grounded, partly, for his political beliefs, and has even used this as a branch of his campaign message: He’s running to get woke-ism out of the military.
A statement given to WLBT by a Navy spokesperson said the following: “In accordance with routine procedure, Lt. Cmdr. Michael Cassidy was placed in a non-flying status as Navy authorities determine if Department of Defense policy was violated. The U.S. military is an apolitical organization. We support the rights of our reserve personnel to run for public office, and all active-duty and reserve personnel must adhere to the guidelines stated in DoD Directive 1344.10, ‘Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces.’”
Due to the amount of questions, the town hall ran long and people began to sneak out.
I caught up with one of these attendees in the parking lot and asked how she felt it had gone. In her view, it went well, and she said she would vote for Cassidy in the runoff. While speaking to her, she mentioned the “mud-slinging” by the Guest campaign and how Guest should have run on, This is what I’ve done, This is what I will do.
During a recent interview with WLBT, Guest said he has had to dispel “mistruths” leveled at him by his opponent. And, if re-elected, he will turn his focus towards “the current crisis” at the Southern border and bringing down the cost of gas, along with addressing inflation. “We cannot continue with unnecessary spending and add trillions in new spending, which is what my opponent is proposing,” he added.
Dr. Nathan Shrader refrained from making any prediction on who he thought would win the runoff, but did note two main takeaways he sees from this election. The first, he says, was the Guest campaign’s correct response in refuting Cassidy’s accusations that Guest is not a conservative.
“He’s absolutely a conservative,” Shrader said. “I think he’s one of the most conservative members of the House in Washington.”
“But then, on the other side,” Shrader continued, “I think you gotta respect what the Cassidy campaign has done, because so few challengers make it this far... He’s bucked the national trend and he’s doing something right.”
Sharie Nicole contributed to this story.
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