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Baria touts party in runoff as Sherman promises fresh course

June 22, 2018
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In this June 20, 2018 photograph, State Rep. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, a U.S. Senate Democratic runoff candidate, sits down at a campaign stop in Jackson, Miss., and speaks about what he must do to win the party's nomination on Tuesday, June 26, to face incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, in the fall general election. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — David Baria is emphasizing his experience and ties to the Democratic establishment while Howard Sherman promises change and fresh policy ideas as the two contend in Tuesday’s runoff for the Democratic nomination in the U.S. Senate race.

The last full week before Tuesday’s runoff has been filled with claims and sometimes denials of endorsements, as Baria jockeys to line up as many public blessings as possible, while Sherman portrays some of those moves as a continuation of failed Democratic strategies in Mississippi.

The winner will face an uphill climb to unseat incumbent Roger Wicker, who won a Republican primary on June 5. Mississippi is heavily Republican; it was last represented by a Democrat in the Senate in 1989, when John C. Stennis retired. Also running in November are the Reform Party’s Shawn O’Hara of Hattiesburg and Libertarian Danny Bedwell of Columbus.

But for now, the action is taking place among the Democrats.

Sherman, a Meridian resident and venture capitalist married to actress Sela Ward, has the money advantage, having raised $850,000 through June 6.

Baria, a lawyer and state representative from Bay St. Louis, is banking on political capital, with endorsements from Mississippi’s only Democratic congressman, Bennie Thompson, as well as a host of African-American legislators. He even pointedly picked up a handful of Democratic endorsements in Meridian earlier this week.

But through June 6, Baria had raised less than $300,000. This week, he was making phone calls, trying to scrape up money to broadcast Thompson’s endorsement in radio commercials.

On Wednesday, after leaving a community meeting in Jackson hosted by Rep. Kathy Sykes, Baria ventured out to the northwest edge of the city to shake hands with Wade Brown, the head of the Presidential Hills Neighborhood Association.

“I want to do really well out here,” Baria told Brown. “Getting folks out is going to be important. Whichever team gets the most players out to the polls is going to win.”

University of Mississippi political science Professor Marvin King predicts turnout will be “super-low,” lower than the 85,000 Democrats who voted June 6. But behind Baria’s efforts to see voters face-to-face is a message — that he’s a known quantity among state Democrats.

“What you’re going to get is someone who has the experience to lead,” Baria said, “someone who has the experience to work within their own caucus and across the aisle.”

Baria emphasizes public education, health care and infrastructure, although he’s added opposition to Donald Trump’s immigration policies to his list as that issue has flared in recent weeks.

Sherman led all candidates in the six-way June 6 primary and picked up the endorsement of third-place finisher Omeria Scott, a state representative from Laurel. His essential message, in both political tactics and policy, is that it’s time to do things differently. With questions about Sherman’s registration in California as a Republican and contributions to Wicker and onetime Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, establishment Democrats have been leery of his fidelity. King said that could particularly be an issue with African-American voters.

But Sherman says Mississippi’s Democratic establishment is falling back on “the same formula which has failed for 30 years.”

“This is still a very, very Trump-centric state,” Sherman said. “So the candidate is going to have to offer a value proposition that can capture moderates, that can capture people who are unhappy with President Trump.”

Sherman describes himself as a “private-sector Democrat” or a “business-centric Democrat.” He’s betting the African-American voters likely to dominate Tuesday’s electorate are ready to take a chance on an outsider

“This is about making change here in Mississippi,” Sherman said, who touts a 100-day plan that includes some items that are focused on the private sector instead of federal spending.

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