“I just kind of like doing it,” Anderson says. “It’s an escape from my norm, I guess.”
With the bugs Windexed off the RV’s windshield, Anderson changes from his Tulane T-shirt and flannel pajama pants into a button-down shirt and jeans. He’s ready for the sixth day of his “People’s Tour” — a campaign trip to all 14 counties in the congressional district that he’s a long shot to win on November 6.
The 26-year-old isn’t a political newbie. Five years ago, a month shy of his 22nd birthday, he was elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives, becoming the youngest African-American ever elected to a state legislature.
Now he’s ready for the next step. He’s running to represent Mississippi’s 4th Congressional District in the US House. The Moss Point native did not choose an easy road: He’s facing three-term Republican Rep. Steve Palazzo, who beat his opponent two years ago by 37 points.
A former Marine, Palazzo is a pro-Trump Republican who supports a strong national defense, opposes abortion and supports low taxes.
Anderson is pro-abortion rights and pro-gun reform. His campaign platform focuses on raising the minimum wage, improving public education and implementing criminal justice reform.
In a state with some of the most restrictive laws around abortion and some of the most lenient concealed carry laws in the country, Anderson is going against the grain. He believes that if he focuses on creating better communication and bipartisanship with his constituents, he can rake in votes from people who would have otherwise disagreed with his policies.
“I always tell my community, we’re not going to always agree on every issue,” Anderson says, “But the fact that we can come and sit down and talk about issues that are important to us and find solutions that work for everyone, that’s how we move forward.”
The ‘People’s Tour’
Anderson says the purpose of this seven-day tour around the 4th district is to just show up and listen to people in the small rural parts of Mississippi that politicians don’t often visit.
“We’re touching folks that have been forgotten about, that are disengaged from political process,” he said. “Their votes count, too. Their voices count. Their issues are important to me as well.”
On the fifth day of the “People’s Tour,” Anderson walked into Wards, a Mississippi fast-food chain in the town of Lumberton (population: 2,112) and started introducing himself to a group of men drinking coffee and chewing on eggs and bacon. The rest of the booths were full of people who were waiting for him to speak, but for these men, this was an unwelcome intrusion to their morning hangout.
“Never heard of him until today,” Tim Hargrove said with a shrug.
“He interrupted my breakfast,” chimed in Joe Phelan, who identified himself as an anybody-but-Hillary-guy. “But I liked him.”
“I’d like to see the other guy come to Wards and talk to us,” Hargrove said, adding that he’d never seen Palazzo come to his small town.
That’s a sentiment Anderson heard echoed a lot on his seven-day tour.
Carol Brody, 60, of Vancleave, Mississippi, attended Anderson’s rally in Biloxi with her husband, Philip. The couple, who identify themselves as independents, have tried — unsuccessfully — to meet with Palazzo at scheduled town halls in years past.
“Palazzo doesn’t want to meet with any of his constituents or his opponents. He thinks he’s going to rule from that little microcosm he has,” Carol said. “I’ve gone to town hall meetings where he did not show up. They just put his picture on the chair.”
Palazzo released a statement at the time, saying town halls “are no longer used for elected officials to share information and take questions” but that he is willing to talk to anyone from his district who calls his Biloxi office. He did not respond to CNN’s multiple requests to participate in this story.
Battling appearances even before party
As a young black man in a state whose flag still incorporates the Confederate battle flag, Anderson is well aware of how people may perceive him when he knocks on their doors. It still makes him nervous and frustrated when people look at his age or race and don’t give him a chance.
“Before you can even get into whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, it’s your appearance,” Anderson says. But he believes that doesn’t represent the majority in Mississippi.
“We’ve got good people here, that want to see change,” Anderson says, “And that is what we’re trying to do with this election, is energize and restore hope to this community, restore hope to this district and let them know that you have another option.”
A big goal of this tour, too, is encouraging young people and African-Americans who’ve been historically more disengaged with the political process to vote. Only 64% of people aged 18 to 34 were registered to vote in 2016, compared to 72% of those over 34, according to the US Census Bureau
. And November could deliver several firsts for African-American representation, including the first black female governor in the United States.
“While we’re traveling talking about ‘Jeramey Anderson for Congress,’ we’re also talking about other candidates and why it’s so important to just get out and exercise your right to vote,” Anderson says. “That’s a very big voting population, but it’s an underperforming population.”
Anderson attributes his interest in politics to his grandfather, Alton Joseph Sr., whom he describes as a community organizer who “didn’t need a title to run.”
Looking to Obama as a model
His grandfather passed away in 2010 of Alzheimer’s. Three years later, Anderson ran for his first political seat. He still lives in his grandfather’s home, now with just his grandmother, Fanny.
Anderson’s made a lot of sacrifices getting into politics at such a young age. He hasn’t found the time to pursue a romantic relationship while in office, and he rarely goes out with friends.
“It’s hard to kind of get a lot of young people to understand that I can’t go to the clubs with them,” Anderson says. “I always tell my friends, ‘We can do the same things, but my name will hit the papers before (yours) do.'”
Still, he doesn’t regret how he’s spent his 20s.
“The benefits of service, the benefits of helping your community, to me outweighs any of those sacrifices that I had to give up,” he says.
The slogan for his campaign “Restoring Hope” is by no means a coincidence. Former President Barack Obama is his biggest idol. He said he shook Obama’s hand once back in 2008. He called the moment “surreal.”
“I saw what could possibly one day be me.”