- Associated Press - Friday, February 28, 2014

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - A former Democratic congressman from south Mississippi is running as a Republican this year, trying to unseat the man who knocked him out of office in 2010.

Gene Taylor filed qualifying papers Friday at the state Republican Party headquarters in Jackson. He asked reporters as he approached the building: “Is this the entrance?”

He’s challenging Republican U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo in the June 3 primary in the 4th Congressional District, which stretches from the Gulf of Mexico up to southern Clarke County. It includes Biloxi, Gulfport, Pascagoula and Hattiesburg, covering 13 counties and part of one.

During an interview outside the GOP building after he qualified, Taylor said that despite his new party label, he’s the same person he’s always been. He said Washington is too divided and he wants to change that.

“I have Republican friends. I have Democratic friends. I have friends who don’t align with either political party,” said Taylor, 60. “And I think what we desperately need right now in Washington is people who are going to do what’s right for Mississippi, do what’s right for our nation, without putting political parties first. We’ve got to put our nation first. We’ve got to put our state first.”

Palazzo, 44, issued a brief statement saying: “It took 25 years for my former Democrat opponent to make it into a Republican primary, and I welcome him to it.”

Taylor served two years on the Bay St. Louis City Council before going to the Mississippi Senate in 1983. He won a special election in 1989 to fill a vacant U.S. House seat after Rep. Larkin Smith died in a plane crash.

Palazzo, of Biloxi, won a 2006 special election to fill a Mississippi House seat after his predecessor moved to the Public Service Commission. He defeated Taylor in November 2010 in a campaign that portrayed Taylor as being too close to Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat who was then speaker of the House. Taylor often went against the Democratic leadership on military spending and other issues.

Candidates’ qualifying deadline is Saturday afternoon. As of Friday, two Democrats had filed to run in the 4th District. They are Trish Causey of Ocean Springs and Matt Moore of Biloxi. Moore unsuccessfully challenged Palazzo in the 2012 general election.

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