Runoff needed in House race that could shift Republican supermajority

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Two candidates are headed to a runoff in a special election that could solidify or spoil the Republican supermajority in the House.

Candidates Missy McGee and Kathryn Rehner received the most votes of four candidates Tuesday for the House seat left vacant by now Hattiesburg Mayor Toby Barker. But because neither candidate garnered 50 percent of the vote, the two will square off in a runoff election on October 3.

McGee earned 1,389 votes, or about 44 percent, while Rehner received 779 votes, or about 25 percent. Casey Mercier (690 votes) and Cory Ferraez (308 votes) did not earn enough votes to make the runoff.

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.

McGee has exclusively voted in Republican primaries, according to voter registration records. Rehner has voted exclusively in Democratic primaries and has said she would caucus with Democrats if elected.

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 going into Tuesday’s election – were the two big fundraisers of the four candidates.

Missy McGee

McGee raised a total of $66,580 with checks from longtime Republican donors and Jackson-based 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.

Kathryn Rehner

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.

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.

GOP House supermajority on the line Tuesday

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.