Dem lawmaker tries to unseat Mississippi GOP Sen. Wicker

November 2, 2018
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FILE - In this June 20, 2018 file photo, State Rep. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, tells reporters why he is running for the seat held by incumbent U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., as he campaigns in Jackson, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Democratic state Rep. David Baria is outspent and overshadowed as he competes in one of Mississippi’s two U.S. Senate races. Still, he appeared energetic as he spoke recently to an audience of two dozen students and faculty members at Tougaloo College.

Baria, who is trying to unseat Republican Sen. Roger Wicker, said he would oppose right-wing or left-wing ideologues if they are nominated to federal judicial posts. Responding to a question about school safety, Baria said he’s a hunter who supports gun ownership but believes “it ain’t anti-Second Amendment to say that we need to do something about gun safety in America.”

Baria also criticized Mississippi’s Republican state legislative leaders for not expanding Medicaid under the federal health law signed in 2010 by then-President Barack Obama. He said the state’s refusal of billions of federal dollars is dragging some rural hospitals into financial ruin.

“If you listen to our leaders ... they’re whistling past the graveyard,” Baria said Oct. 26 at the college. “You can’t just ignore the problems. Problems don’t fix themselves. You’ve got to say, ‘OK, we’ve got an issue here, folks. We’ve got to get to work on it.’”

Baria is a Gulf Coast attorney who lost a home in Hurricane Katrina. He served one state Senate term before being elected in 2011 to the Republican-led Mississippi House, where he’s now the Democratic leader.

Wicker is an attorney a former state lawmaker from Tupelo. He won a U.S. House seat in 1994, when Republicans gained control of Congress halfway through Democrat Bill Clinton’s first term as president. When Republican Sen. Trent Lott resigned in late 2007, then-Gov. Haley Barbour appointed Wicker to temporarily fill the Senate seat. Wicker won a special election in 2008 to complete the term, and was re-elected in 2012.

Wicker has raised $6.4 million as he seeks another six years in office, while Baria has raised just over $781,000. Two other candidates, Libertarian Danny Bedwell and Reform Party candidate Shawn O’Hara, report raising no money.

The last time Mississippi elected a Democrat to the Senate was 1982.

Wicker has declined to debate his challengers this year.

“I am glad to run on a record of accomplishment that includes making our armed services stronger,” Wicker told a few hundred businesspeople Thursday at a social event sponsored by Mississippi Economic Council, the state chamber of commerce.

Wicker cited a bill he sponsored to authorize more Navy ships. He also said he had worked on bills expanding research to fight Alzheimer’s disease and to fix problems with the federal flood insurance program.

The election is Tuesday, and Mississippi is in the unusual position of having both of its Senate seats on the ballot in the same year. The race that has grabbed more attention is a special election to fill the final two years of a term started by longtime Republican Sen. Thad Cochran, who retired in April.

Gov. Phil Bryant appointed the second-term state agriculture commissioner, Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith, to temporarily succeed Cochran in the Senate, and she is endorsed by President Donald Trump.

The special election is nominally nonpartisan, which means the party labels won’t be on the ballot but candidates are campaigning as Republicans and Democrats.

Hyde-Smith is challenged by Democrat Tobey Bernard Bartee, a former military intelligence officer who is a first-time candidate for public office; Democrat Mike Espy, who is a former congressman and former U.S. agriculture secretary; and Republican Chris McDaniel, a tea party-backed state senator who nearly unseated Cochran in a bitter 2014 Republican primary.

If nobody receives a majority in the special election, the top two candidates will compete in a Nov. 27 runoff.

For the regular election, there is no runoff provision even if the race is close: It is possible to win with a plurality rather than a majority of the votes.


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