When Mississippians head to the polls in November to elect their next United States senator their decision will have a profound effect on the rest of Washington, D.C., according to New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker.

Booker, a Democrat, was in Jackson to help raise money for Senate candidate Mike Espy on Friday evening. Espy, a former congressman and agriculture secretary under the Clinton Administration, is competing in a November special election to finish the term of Sen. Thad Cochran.

During a brief press conference at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, Booker, whom many Democrats believe could mount a presidential run for 2020, stressed the importance of the state’s upcoming Senate elections.

“I could be in a lot of places,” he said. “But I’m here because I think that of all the races that are going on right now, none will be more of a game changer than this Senate race right here.”

Cochran announced his retirement earlier this year, which set into motion a political frenzy. As a result, Mississippi now has two Senate seats up for grabs in November. With state Rep. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, running to unseat Republican Sen. Roger Wicker, Mississippi could send a Democrat to the U.S. Senate for the first in the modern political era.

In addition, either Baria or Espy have the potential to swing the tilt of power in the Senate. And depending on how the dominoes fall on Election Day, and the race for the Cochran seat goes to a runoff three weeks later, Mississippi voters could be crucial to determining the composition of the Senate. Currently, Republicans hold 51 seats while Democrats hold 47.

“Mississippi will send a delegation to Congress that in its very makeup will be about working together across party lines,” Booker said. “Mississippi will have a voice on both sides of the Senate with two people that will say ‘We gotta bring home the bacon for this state.’”

Espy’s campaign has been relatively quiet up until now, with one of his first major public appearances coming last weekend at the Jackson Black Rodeo. On Friday, Espy urged the community to get registered and vote and repeated a familiar message — that he would work across the aisle to do what’s best for Mississippi.

“We want to be that bridge that connects all Mississippians of goodwill, regardless of age or gender or race or religion or even regardless of political party,” Espy said. “We want to help forge common purpose with all Mississippians regardless of differing distinctions.”

Booker was confident in Espy’s prospects against Republican challengers state Sen. Chris McDaniel and Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, whom Gov. Phil Bryant appointed to replace Cochran after in March, as well as in Espy’s ability to work with Senate Republicans.

“I’m sure he’s going to go against the Democratic party, the majority of us, on a lot of issues, because Mike Espy has always been an independent thinker doing what he thinks is best,” Booker said. 

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Kayleigh Skinner joined the Mississippi Today team in January 2017 as an education and legislative reporter and advanced to a senior staff member in her four years with the company. Before joining Mississippi Today, Kayleigh worked at The Hechinger Report, Chalkbeat Tennessee, and The Commercial Appeal. She has appeared on MSNBC, NPR, and BBC Newsday Radio to discuss her reporting.