Senate candidate Tobey Bartee, overshadowed by big names and big money, introduces himself to Mississippi

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Adam Ganucheau | Mississippi Today

U.S. Senate candidate Tobey Bartee addresses the Mississippi Economic Council at its annual Hobnob event.

While cameras swarmed Senate special election candidates Cindy Hyde-Smith, Mike Espy and Chris McDaniel at the Mississippi Economic Council’s Hobnob event on Thursday, the fourth candidate in the race, Tobey Bartee, sat alone at a table after his speech.

Bartee, a former military intelligence officer, is running for public office for the first time, and his candidacy has been largely overlooked. Thursday’s event was no exception.

He spoke early in the morning, before most of the state’s business leaders had poured their coffee and found their seats. The event’s program misspelled his name. Several media outlets covering the event ran stories – five days from Election Day – misidentifying him as a city councilman in Gautier (his father, also named Tobey Bartee, is the Gautier city councilman).

But Bartee, a Democrat and a policy wonk with professional experience at the Department of Defense, the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security, is relishing his first chance to meet voters across Mississippi and pitch his ideas.

“The only reason I got in this campaign is about what I see in the country and the state. It’s almost like a call to service,” Bartee told Mississippi Today. “It’s not about me believing I’m going to be the change. It’s about building partnership with the voters – making sure they’re shouldering their responsibility to get engaged to make sure that their voices are heard and that elected officials are held accountable. But then, it’s also about doing your responsibility to develop good policy and have a conversation about the development of policies.”

Adam Ganucheau | Mississippi Today

U.S. Senate candidate Tobey Bartee talks with students after a town hall at Millsaps College in Jackson.

Bartee attended a town hall with students at Millsaps College in Jackson on Thursday, where he answered students’ policy questions for more than an hour. Holding a masters degree in public policy from Vanderbilt University, Bartee breezed through tough questions about addressing poverty in Mississippi, imposing gun control safeguards without breaching Second Amendment rights, implementing smart foreign policy, and taking advantage of federal funds that would help poor Mississippians.

During the town hall at Millsaps, he cited Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” when talking foreign policy. His political heroes are former Democratic Speaker of the House Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill (D-Mass.), who Bartee says was great at researching and developing policy, and former Republican Senate majority leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), who Bartee says was a master at implementing policy.

“I believe in command of policy, and I believe in command of process,” Bartee said. “In terms of the policy side, there is no issue I will not unpack in all of its complexities. The team that we will build, your team from Mississippi, will be focused on unpacking those issues and what they mean for Mississippi. But then you have to be able to take good ideas and move them from ideas to actual policy. Your team in D.C. will master that process.”

Key policy focuses he lists on the stump and on his social media pages are: public education, citing low test scores and a need to develop workforce skills; infrastructure, citing Mississippi’s funding gap and crumbling roads and bridges; health care, citing a need to expand Medicaid and protect those with pre-existing conditions; and foreign policy, citing China’s growing military and economic influence and a general “battle for global influence.”

Bartee is running in the special U.S. Senate race against Espy, Hyde-Smith and McDaniel that will decide who replaces Sen. Thad Cochran, who retired in April due to failing health. If no candidate gets 50 percent on Nov. 6, the top two vote-getters will advance to a runoff Nov. 27.