BAY ST. LOUIS — Rep. David Baria mentioned none of his challengers by name, but in the formal announcement Friday of his candidacy for the U.S. Senate, he took direct aim at several themes pushed by one high-profile Republican challenger.
The announcement from Baria, 55, who was born in Escatawpa and grew up on the Coast, came two days after state Sen. Chris McDaniel made his candidacy official in his hometown of Ellisville. In his speech, McDaniel drew a line in the sand between “us” (those who believe in his brand of conservatism) and “them” (everyone who doesn’t).
From the steps of the Hancock County Courthouse, and without naming McDaniel, Baria offered a rebuke of us-vs-themism and unwillingness to compromise.
“I think we need to fight together as Mississippians because if this ship is sinking it affects every single one of us. There can be no more us and them when it comes to our jobs, our infrastructure, schools and hospitals,” Baria said.
Baria is perhaps the best known among the Democratic candidates who qualified to run for the U.S. Senate. The field includes his Democratic House colleague, Rep. Omeria Scott, businessman Howard Sherman of Meridian as well as Jensen Bohren of Benton, Jerone Garland of Kosciusko and Victor Maurice of Pass Christian.
The platform Baria laid out was heavy on populist themes such as rebuilding roads and bridges, railways, health care and protecting hospitals, jobs and the economy.
“We’ve dropped the ball on creating and maintaining the basic ingredients for success,” Baria said. “Our current leadership paints a rosy picture of our state and our country. We hear that the stock market is up and unemployment is down, that good jobs are coming back any day now if we just give one more tax cut to corporations.
“Wages aren’t rising fast enough to keep up with inflation and we’ve seen a decline in our labor force of nearly 70,000 Mississippians since 2010,” he continued. “These numbers are not encouraging — but the untapped potential that we have in Mississippi is incredible.”
Having worked in the hyper-partisan Mississippi Legislature may have conditioned Baria, the Democratic leader in the House, for the hyper-partisanship of Congress, said Rep. Sonya Williams-Barnes, the leader of the legislative black caucus.
Wiliams-Barnes said Baria works with the Republican majority while continuing to “represent our poor and underserved.”
“I see David work across party lines. I see him provide advice as well as camaraderie with those who are not on the same side of the aisle and work the process to benefit the people of the state,” William-Barnes said.
Baria also said Mississippi’s leaders have failed to respond to the phenomenon known as “brain drain” that occurs when talented people leave the state.
“Everybody talks about the brain drain and what it cost our state but our current leaders can’t find — and sometimes I don’t think they even want to look for — a solution to that problem. Meanwhile, we’re losing a generation of bright young entrepreneurs, doctors, computer scientists and future leaders because we have failed to create the kind of place here in Mississippi where they want to live,” Baria said.
Should he emerge from the Democratic primary, Baria would face a tough climb against a Republican opponent, whether it’s the incumbent, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, or McDaniel. The most votes a Democrat has collected in a Senate race in the past decade was in 2008, when former governor Ronnie Musgrove won 45 percent of votes in an election where Barack Obama’s name was also on the ballot.
Even Baria’s longtime supporters recognize this challenge.
Madeleine and John Fulwiler, who attended the campaign event, pointed to the recent Alabama Senate race in which Democrat Doug Jones narrowly bested former state Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore. In the weeks before that race, a number of news reports surfaced that Moore had assaulted women and dated underage girls.
“Yeah, we’re looking at that thinking that that happened there, however I don’t know that the Republican candidates are as bad as Roy Moore,” Madeleine Fulwiler said.
“I think if Chris McDaniel runs, the roaches will come out of the walls with regard to some of the issues that party is having to deal with, and I think David could take advantage of some of that,” John Fulwiler said.
He added: “I think for the candidates running on the Democratic side will help David to have competition so that he gets better name recognition in the northern part of the state.”
Baria is also running against a relatively good economy, including here in Mississippi, which has one of the highest levels of unemployment in the nation but is seeing the lowest unemployment rates in a generation, a fact the state’s Republican leadership points out frequently.
“With a U.S. Senate race, you have the platform to reach a lot of people and tell the truth about those numbers because as you know the governor spins those numbers because he wants to tell the story of his own success,” Baria told Mississippi Today.
“The truth is our unemployment rate is lower because we have many, many fewer people trying to get jobs in Mississippi. We have this brain drain. I will have a platform through this race, hopefully, to talk about the truth. If people see the facts and recognize the truth, we can make some changes so that maybe we can reverse some of these trends.”