Legislative Democrats vow to work harder for Baria in runoff

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Bobby Harrison / Mississippi Today

Rep. David Baria, center, facing a runoff against Howard Sherman to see who takes onl Sen. Roger Wicker, rallied support Monday from state Democrats.

State Rep. Robert Johnson of Natchez predicted Monday he and his fellow legislative Democrats will make more of an effort in the June 26 U.S. Senate runoff to ensure a victory for David Baria of Bay St. Louis.

Johnson said some legislative Democrats might have been reluctant to fully engage in the June 5 primary for Baria because a fellow member of the House, Omeria Scott, also was running.

But with the runoff election pitting Baria against Howard Sherman, husband of Mississippi-born actress Sela Ward and an entrepreneur, Johnson said the choice is clear.

“David Baria is not a convenient Democrat,” but a legislator who has been a strong Democrat in the Legislature despite representing one of the most Republican districts in the state, said Johnson, who was flanked by about 12 of his colleagues.

About 15 legislative Democrats met with Baria Monday in Jackson to discuss get-out-the-vote efforts for the June 26 runoff. Baria said the decision was made to allow each legislator to decide the best way in his or her district to get voters to the polls for Baria. In total, Baria said 41 of the Mississippi Legislature’s 67 Democrats had endorsed him.

The Baria event comes after Friday where in a surprise move Scott, who finished third in the runoff, endorsed Sherman in an event in her hometown of Laurel.

Johnson described the runoff as between “a California Republican and a Mississippi Democrat.”

Sherman and Ward have been active in her hometown of Meridian, but records show Sherman voted in Mississippi for the first time in the June 5 primary. He had voted in a recent election as a Republican in California and contributed $5,000 to Republican Sen. Roger Wicker last year. He also has donated in the past to other Republicans, though Sherman has said his political views put him in line with Mississippi Democrats.

Sherman told Mississippi Today on primary election night: “What I discovered over the last three weeks is when you advance a program, and people haven’t had a chance to meet you, given that I come to this situation with a very different background, it’s important to keep doing that. The next three weeks will be putting a person to the ideas. The goal is to continue to have people meet me and give people that one degree of separation.”

The winner of the Baria-Sherman runoff will face Wicker in the November general election.

As the minority leader in the Mississippi House, Baria, a third term state legislator, is well known among party insiders. But like most Mississippi Democrats, Baria has struggled to raise money for what is expected to be an uphill battle against Wicker in November.

According to the latest filings with the Federal Election Commission, Baria has raised about $300,000 while Sherman has raised about $900,000, including $650,000 he has loaned to his campaign.

In the June 5 primary, Sherman obtained about 800 votes more than Baria, but did not garner the majority needed to avoid the runoff. Baria said the goal of Monday’s meeting with fellow legislators was to try to prevent the dropoff in voter participation that often occurs in runoff elections. Only about 88,000 people voted in the primary.

The runoff is open to anyone who voted in the primary and those who did not vote in the June 5 Republican primary.