GULFPORT — Republican Steven Palazzo successfully tapped into South Mississippians' anger at Washington to unseat longtime Democratic U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor 52 percent to 47 percent in unofficial results Tuesday night.
"Our campaign from Day 1 has been about putting Mississippi families first and not the corrupt politics of Washington," Palazzo told a roomful of supporters at his Gulfport victory party Tuesday night. "This is overwhelming. Your prayers and your support got us where we are today."
Taylor carried the populous three Coast counties. But Palazzo carried huge margins in Jones, Lamar and Pearl River counties, and he held Taylor's lead to a small margin in Jackson County.
Palazzo thanked Taylor for his 21 years of service as District 4 representative.
"We share a love for the Mississippi Gulf Coast," Palazzo said of Taylor. "We share a love for South Mississippi and we share a love for our country. I wish him the best."
Palazzo said South Mississippi shouldn't miss Taylor's seniority, because Palazzo expects to be given key positions in a Republican-led House.
"I'm going to hit the ground running," Palazzo said. "I'm going to make a difference for South Mississippi."
Palazzo's campaign painted Taylor as a Washington insider and supporter of the national Democratic agenda. Palazzo's main campaign theme was "Fire (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi," which he said Tuesday night would be one of his first goals in Congress.
Taylor was one of many Democrats nationwide to lose Tuesday night as the GOP regained control of the House and Democrats narrowly held control of the Senate.
Taylor quipped, "I suddenly have a whole lot more time to go fishing."
He did not congratulate Palazzo in his concession speech. "I resent being lied about for six months," Taylor said.
To his supporters, Taylor said: "It's been a pleasure to serve you. I have nothing but good memories." Gov. Haley Barbour, head of the Republican Governors Association and one of the leaders of the nationwide Republican sweep Tuesday, said Mississippi was "sending a message to Washington," after voters also unseated incumbent Democratic District 1 Rep. Travis Childers in favor of state Rep. Alan Nunnelee.
"After two years of an unprecedented lurch to the left in Washington, Mississippians today made it clear we don't like government spending like there's no tomorrow."
USM Political Science professor Mark Wrighton said Palazzo's victory Tuesday night hinged on voter turnout and "protest votes."
"Taylor was a great representative, and he voted the way most of his district's constituents would have wanted him to, particularly on Obama's agenda," Wrighton said. "He did a great job of bringing jobs here, especially for shipbuilding.
"He was consumed by the Republican tidal wave. Sometimes being a good representative isn't enough. Tonight was just about there being too many protest votes. Mr. Palazzo did a great job of tying Rep. Taylor to Nancy Pelosi and to the Democratic leadership in Congress. That ad with (Taylor) voting for her for speaker, that was devastating."
Palazzo said: "It was an historic election for South Mississippi. We went to the polls and voted to repeal the government takeover of health care. What we did was to say 'no thank you' to cap and trade. We said no to higher taxes and no to the liberal Pelosi-led agenda."