Democrat David Baria enters Senate race

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Adam Ganucheau | Mississippi Today

House Minority Leader Rep. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, speaks to reporters at a Stennis Institute luncheon earlier this year in Jackson.

David Baria, a state representative who leads the Democratic caucus in the House, will run for Sen. Roger Wicker’s Senate seat.

Just a couple of  hours after arch-conservative Chris McDaniel announced a primary challenge to Wicker, Baria signed his qualifying papers and shared his intentions with Mississippi Today.

“I want to give voters a true choice, and I plan to spend the campaign listening to voters and working hard to earn their trust,” Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, said Wednesday afternoon in a statement.

Baria has served in the state House since 2012 and has served as minority leader since 2016. He previously served a single term in the state Senate.

He had previously discussed considering a run. On Monday, when McDaniel strongly hinted about his bid for Wicker’s seat, Baria told Mississippi Today that McDaniel entering the race could provide a “unique dynamic” for a Democrat to win the seat.

I think it takes a somewhat unique dynamic to see a path of victory for a Democrat in a U.S. Senate race in Mississippi,” Baria said on Monday afternoon. “In a vacuum, Chris McDaniel getting in against Wicker creates the kind of dynamic that leads me to believe that might be achievable.”

Baria’s candidacy is sure to draw comparisons to the 2017 Alabama Senate race. In Alabama, conservative firebrand Roy Moore successfully beat incumbent U.S. Sen. Luther Strange in the GOP primary but then lost to Democrat Doug Jones in the general election, unexpectedly trimming the party’s majority in the U.S. Senate to just 51 senators.

Baria told Mississippi Today earlier this week that he had consulted about a potential Senate bid with Jones, who offered to connect Baria to campaign staff from his 2017 campaign. Baria also said he has spoken with Sen. Chris Van Hollen, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, about a potential Senate bid.

It’s on: Chris McDaniel will challenge Roger Wicker

An attorney from the Gulf Coast, Baria has led Democrats in the House under the first-ever Republican super-majority. In 2016, Democrats were largely shut out of the legislative process, spurring intense drama, infighting and even legal battles within the lower chamber.

By 2017, Baria had worked with Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn to calm the waters. In the deal, Baria negotiated office space for the Democratic caucus and weekly meetings between him and Gunn.

Baria has also spoken out against Republican leadership on several issues, namely large corporate tax cuts given over the course of seven years.

Baria will also face Howard Sherman, husband of actress Sela Ward, who also qualified for the Democratic primary on Tuesday, The Clarion-Ledger reported. Sherman is a venture capitalist who has lived in California and New York.

Additionally, Jensen Bohlen, a little-known candidate, qualified for the race earlier this year and registered a campaign committee with the Federal Election Commission. The 34-year-old, who has no political experience, lists his platform issues on a Twitter account and website.

Both the Republican and Democratic primaries will be held June 5, and the general election will be held Nov. 6.