By Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press
JACKSON – Two-term Greenville Mayor Heather McTeer says she didn’t just wake up one day and decide to challenge fellow Democrat Bennie Thompson for Congress.
The 35-year-old says she prayed about it and decided that seeking office is one way she can try to help the Mississippi Delta, long one of the poorest parts of the country.
McTeer, however, will face a formidable task.
Thompson, 63, is sitting on a $1.7 million campaign fund, and he has built a strong network of supporters since first winning the 2nd District seat in a 1993 special election.
He’s currently the longest-serving member of Mississippi’s U.S. House delegation and is the ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee.
When Democrats held the House majority from 2006 to 2010, he chaired the committee.
Thompson said last week that he takes every opponent seriously.
“I’m all over the district. Nonstop,” Thompson said on the same day he announced defense contractor Lockheed Martin is bringing 350 jobs to Clinton with a technology support center.
The last serious challenge Thompson faced from a candidate with significant name recognition came in 2006, when state Rep. Chuck Espy – nephew of Thompson’s predecessor in Congress, Mike Espy – ran in the Democratic primary.
Thompson easily won that race with 65 percent of the primary vote and carried the 2006 general election with roughly the same margin over Republican Yvonne Brown, who had been mayor of Tchula.
The 2nd District stretches more than 200 miles along the Mississippi River through the Delta. The district also encompasses most of Jackson.
Thompson lives in Bolton, which is too far away from Jackson to be called a suburb.
McTeer grew up in Greenville, she said, “in a house of public service.” Her father, Victor, was an attorney and her mother, Dee, was a teacher.
“My father came to Mississippi with voters’ rights movement and worked very hard for the rights of people with the Mississippi Delta to be able to vote,” Heather McTeer said in an interview this month. “He worked with civil rights icons like Fannie Lou Hamer.”
She earned her undergraduate degree from Spelman College in Atlanta and her law degree from Tulane University.
She’s the first black mayor of Greenville, and the first woman to hold the job.
“One of my biggest frustrations is seeing everyday people who come in and they need help, they’re really, really struggling and really need help,” McTeer said. “For the past eight years, I have made it my business to try to provide that help in Greenville.”