FILE – In this Feb. 15, 2019, file photo, Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., speaks during a television news interview on Capitol Hill in Washington. Palazzo is facing six opponents including a sheriff, Mike Ezell, and a state senator, Brice Wiggins, in the 2022 Republican primary. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

by Emily Wagster Pettus, Associated Press

A sheriff who is trying to unseat a six-term Mississippi congressman picked up support Thursday from all the candidates eliminated in this week’s first round of Republican primary voting.

Later in the day, Rep. Steven Palazzo dismissed the endorsements of Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell and said he wants to debate Ezell before the June 28 primary runoff in south Mississippi’s 4th District.

“It’s not shocking that local politicians who ran against me in the first primary are endorsing our opponent,” Palazzo said in a statement.

Palazzo — who had faced an ethics investigation over campaign spending after the 2020 race — declined to take part in candidate forums before Tuesday’s six-person primary. He received about 32% of the votes and Ezell received about 25%, according to uncertified results.

Three of the five Republicans who finished behind Palazzo and Ezell on Tuesday appeared Thursday in Gulfport with Ezell to announce their support of him.

“We deserve better than what we have,” said Clay Wagner, a retired banker who placed third in the primary.

State Sen. Brice Wiggins, who finished fourth, said 68% of the people who cast ballots voted against Palazzo and “that’s a mandate for change.”

Palazzo, now 52, was first elected to the U.S. House in 2010. In his statement Thursday, he said of Ezell: “A 65-year old freshman in Congress is not going to be able to get done for Mississippi what I can as a subcommittee chairman on Appropriations with seniority in the House.”

Ezell has said Palazzo is ineffective in representing south Mississippi, and he has criticized Palazzo for proxy voting — the practice of not showing up in person to cast votes in the House but allowing another member to cast a vote in his place.

The Republican nominee will advance to the general election ballot to face Democrat Johnny DuPree and a Libertarian candidate, Alden Patrick Johnson.