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In a special election that could spoil or solidify the Republican supermajority in the House, Hattiesburg residents will cast votes Tuesday for one of four candidates vying for the seat left vacant by newly elected Mayor Toby Barker.
Today’s nonpartisan special election for House District 102 features Cory Ferraez, Missy McGee, Casey Mercier and Kathryn Rehner.
Candidates do not officially affiliate with any party in special legislative elections in compliance with state code, but voting records show how the candidates may vote in the Legislature. Ferraez, McGee and Mercier have exclusively voted in Republican primaries, according to voter registration records, though none of the candidates have been endorsed by the Mississippi Republican Party. Ferraez has said he would caucus with Republicans.
Rehner has not shied away from her Democratic Party affiliation, openly stating she would caucus with the House Democrats if elected. She has been endorsed by the Mississippi Democratic Party.
Campaign finance dollars have poured into the race, further hinting at party affiliation. McGee and Rehner – considered the frontrunners by several Pine Belt and Capitol politicos – were the two big fundraisers.
McGee raised a total of $66,580 with checks from longtime Republican donors and political action committees. McGee received $1,000 from the Mississippi Road Builders PAC, $500 from Mississippi Physicians PAC, $500 from the Mississippi Realtors PAC and $500 from the Mississippi Bankers Association PAC.
McGee received a $10,000 check from Hattiesburg resident Lawrence Warren, CEO of Warren Paving.
Rehner raised $43,295 with a list of individual donors who give to Democrats. Current state Rep. Jarvis Dortch, D-Jackson, Rep. Percy Watson, D-Hattiesburg, and Sen. Derrick Simmons, D-Cleveland, cut checks to Rehner. Rep. Abe Hudson, D-Shelby, knocked doors for Rehner in Hattiesburg last weekend, according to his Twitter account.
Rehner also received a $10,000 check from the Washington, D.C.-based Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.
Ferraez raised $40,992, although $16,000 of that total came from the candidate himself. Mercier raised $15,745.
The three-fifths supermajority, which House Republicans have enjoyed since the 2016 legislative session (and for the first time since Reconstruction), means that Republicans can pass revenue or tax bills without needing Democratic votes. In the House, a three-fifths vote (74 of the 122 seats) is necessary to pass those bills.
The loss of one GOP House seat for any reason would would mean a loss of that supermajority.
Of the three currently vacant House seats, House District 102 appears the most vulnerable for Republicans. Hattiesburg, a college town, is the fourth-largest city in the state, and the district in question is home to more than 24,500 residents.
In 2010, the district’s black voting age population – which historically goes to Democrats in Mississippi – was 30.4 percent. Barker, who ran as an Independent in the mayoral race, was long viewed a moderate Republican, swinging likely Democratic voters to his camp.
Barker, who was first elected to the House in 2007 at the age of 25, chaired the Performance Based Budgeting committee. He gained the trust of the Republican leadership as he sat on conference committees in 2017 for key education and appropriations bills.
The past four elections have gone decidedly Republican, though the district is considered “in play” to several Democratic operatives in Mississippi.
• 2015: Barker garnered 3,500 votes, or 73 percent, edging out Democratic opponent Taylor Brinkley, who received about 1,300 votes, or 27 percent.
• 2011: Barker earned 3,957 votes, or 66 percent, while Democrat David Cook earned 2,049 votes, or 34 percent.
• 2007: Barker earned 2,955 votes, or 63 percent, while Democrat Jolly Matthews earned 1,766 votes, or 37 percent.
• 2003: Longtime Republican Rep. Lee Jarrell Davis, R-Hattiesburg, earned 4,007 votes, or 72 percent, while Democrat Rick James earned 1,549 votes, or 28 percent.
Polls are open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.