James Carville, who gained national prominence as the lead strategist for Bill Clinton’s successful presidential campaigns in the 1990s, is involved in Mississippi politics this year.
Carville is an unofficial, unpaid adviser for state Rep. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, who is running an underdog campaign to unseat incumbent U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, a Tupelo Republican, in the November general election.
In recent years, Carville, a Louisiana native, has been known for his colorful commentary on national news programs,
In a reply to Mississippi Today relayed through the Baria campaign, Carville, stated, “In the Mississippi pine forest of senatorial timber, Roger Wicker has proven to be a toothpick. David will stand tall for Mississippi.”
The obvious connection is that Carville, and his wife, nationally known Republican strategist Mary Matalin, own a second residence in Baria’s hometown of Bay St. Louis in Hancock County on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The political power couple reside in New Orleans – less than an hour away from Bay St. Louis.
Baria said recently he had occasionally crossed paths with Carville in Bay St. Louis restaurants and had once attended a fund-raiser in his home, but was surprised when he took an interest in his campaign.
“I think I just got a phone call from him. He offered to help,” Baria said. “I was flattered he even knew I was running.”
Baria said Carville must have gotten his phone number from mutual friends.
At some point after that phone call, some of Baria’s Louisiana friends had planned to hold a fundraiser for him. Baria told the friends about Carville’s officer to help. So they reached out to Carville, who agreed to host the fundraiser in his New Orleans home near the Tulane University campus.
“Since then, he has been even more engaged,” Baria said. “I talk to him on a fairly routine basis, probably a couple of times per week.”
When Baria holds teleconference meetings with core supporters and advisers, Carville often participates.
Baria, whose fundraising has been limited against the heavily favored incumbent Wikcer, joked he is glad Carville is not charging him because he could not afford to pay him.
“It has been great. I have never had a real mentor in my political life,” said Baria, 55, an attorney who is in his third term in the state Legislature. “It is great to have someone of his expertise to provide a little advice.”
Baria, the state House minority leader, refused to provide specifics of the Carville advice.
The Baria-Wicker race is one of two Senate elections in Mississippi this November. A special election also will be held to fill the post vacated by Thad Cochran in March for health reasons.
In that election, interim appointee Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, a Republican, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, a Republican, former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy, a Democrat, and Tobey Bartee, a Gautier Democrat, are running.
Both incumbents, Wicker and Hyde-Smith, are considered the favorites. In the special election, if no candidate obtains a majority vote, a runoff between the top two vote-getters will be held three weeks later on Nov. 27.
In the Baria-Wicker race, the candidate who garners the most votes, whether it is a majority or plurality, will win the election. Reform Party candidate Shawn O’Hara and Libertarian Party candidate Danny Bedwell also are on the ballot along with Baria and Wicker.