David Baria describes himself as practical – no Don Quixote tilting at windmills.
The Bay St. Louis Democrat concedes he faces long odds against incumbent U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, a Tupelo Republican, in the November general election. And before the general election, there is the uncertainty and potential landmines of Tuesday’s party primary election where Baria faces entrepreneur and venture capitalist Howard Sherman, husband of accomplished actress Sela Ward of Meridian, and fellow state House member Omeria Scott of Laurel and three lesser-known candidates.
“I know this is not an easy undertaking,” Baria said recently in his Jackson law office after a day of campaigning.
But Baria points out overcoming long odds is what he must do almost daily in his profession as a trial attorney – a job he claims with pride. The same is true, he says, of being a politician where he first defeated an entrenched incumbent to win a seat in the state Senate before he opted to run for House District 122 viewed by many as a district that was quickly trending Republican. Baria has won the seat twice despite direct efforts by Gov. Phil Bryant and other members of the state Republican establishment to defeat him.
Those odds, though, are nothing compared to what he and his family have faced in their personal lives. And overcoming those odds inflicted much more of a cost than losing an election.
In 2005, the Barias lost their oldest son, Darden, to rabies. It was the only death from rabies in the nation that year and the first death from rabies in Mississippi since 1947.
To this day, it is not clear how the child contracted rabies, though, it is believed he was bitten in his sleep by a bat. The child never reported being bitten.
When asked about the incident, Baria agrees to provide details, but apologizes saying he cannot do so without “getting a lump in my throat.”
The child’s death at age 10 occurred 30 days after the Barias, like many other Gulf Coast residents, “lost everything” in Hurricane Katrina.
The Barias had moved to Bay St. Louis about 15 months before the storm from Jackson, though, David Baria was no stranger to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. He grew up on the eastern side of the Gulf in Jackson County where his father was a computer programmer and his mother worked primarily as a secretary.
After those tragic events of 2005, Baria shut down his law practice and opened with partners a company that first helped with cleanup on the Coast and later operated as a demolition company. Baria said the company served two purposes – to provide a needed service after the devastation from Katrina and to provide him an outlet and job at a time he said he was mentally unprepared to practice law.
“I just wanted to be outside,” he said. Two years later, Baria, opted to run and win a seat in the state Senate, beginning his political career focusing on insurance reform he said was needed to help Coast residents.
Baria sold his interest in the demolition company but does have interests in multiple businesses, such as a company that would help large employers track their employees in case of a disaster in their plant. He said none of those investments have made money.
Baria currently serves as the House minority leader. He says he believes there is a path to victory against the incumbent Wicker in the November general election, though, most political observers view the post as a safe Republican post.
“It is time for a change in Mississippi,” Baria said during a recent internet townhall. “For 30 years we have sent the same people to Washington and got the same results. We are still 50th.
“We can no longer tolerate the us vs. them politics that have dominated politics in Mississippi.”
Baria said he wants to work on issues that he says will unite the state and will move it ahead economically. He makes no bones, though, about his allegiance to the Democratic Party.
“He is a gentleman,” said Speaker Pro Tem Greg Snowden, R-Meridian. “He says what he believes, and I don’t normally agree with that. But is always cordial.”
When a townhall questioner asks for a commitment that he will not switch parties if elected, he said, “I am a 55-year-old man. I am who I am, and I am not going to switch parties.”
During the course of the event he voices support for increasing the minimum wage, protecting the environment and expanding Medicaid to cover primarily the working poor.
Describing himself as a gun owner and hunter, Baria tells a questioner, “I support the Second Amendment, and I support all other nine amendments in the Bill of Rights.”
Baria also makes no attempt to hide his distaste of President Donald Trump and cites Wicker’s enthusiastic support of the president as another reason he entered the race.
Baria, using unusually colorful language for him, says: “One of the main reasons we need to get rid of our current senator is because he has tried to get so close to our president that he wants to get into his underwear. This is a president who is a salesman and a huckster. And it obvious the president lies. He lies about big things and little things…I am going to be a hedge against the president.”
To do that, Baria must get through the Democratic primary where in recent elections unusual results have occurred – such as little known trucker Robert Gray winning the 2015 Democratic gubernatorial nomination. Then Baria must pull off what would be the biggest political upset in recent Mississippi history by defeating Wicker in the November general election.
Baria said his campaign financing will fall far short of what Wicker will bring to the race. The latest campaign reports show Wicker with $3.4 million in cash on hand. Baria said the next campaign finance report will show he has raised about $300,000.
“I have raised sufficient money to run a legitimate campaign,” he said.
As Baria runs that campaign, his wife, the former Marcie Fyke of Jackson, also an attorney but no longer practicing, is under consideration for the seminary to study to become a priest in the Episcopal Church. Their oldest daughter, Merritt, has graduated from Loyola and is considering graduate school while their youngest daughter, Bess, is a student at Loyola. Their son, Max, is in elementary school at home in Bay St. Louis.
If Baria were to pull off that upset and his wife enters the seminary, the family could face some dramatic changes in the coming months.
But based on past experience, the odds are they can cope with those changes.