House speaker candidate Smith runs as Republican

JACKSON — Longtime state Rep. Jeff Smith of Columbus has switched to the Republican Party and says he still plans to run for the open spot of Mississippi House speaker this coming January.

Smith has served in the House for 20 years as a conservative Democrat. He said last week that he’d run for re-election this year as an independent. But just before Wednesday’s 5 p.m. qualifying deadline for legislative elections, Smith switched to the GOP.

He tells The Associated Press that he decided to become Republican because the GOP recruited a candidate to run against him. He says he’s hoping to secure his re-election in the Aug. 2 party primary rather than waiting until the Nov. 8 general election.

Smith says he now considers himself a moderate Republican.

Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press