June 14, 2018 10:34:11 AM
There is one immutable truth for Democrats in Mississippi: Nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, comes easy.
On June 26, Mississippi Democrats will choose their candidate to run against incumbent Republican Roger Wicker for the U.S. Senate in the November general election.
It won't be easy.
In fact, just getting to the decisive run-off election hasn't been easy.
In the June 5 Democratic primary, Meridian venture capitalist Howard Sherman edged Bay St. Louis state representative David Baria by fewer than a thousand votes -- 31.9 percent to 31 percent. Another state representative, Omeria Scott of Laurel, finished with 24 percent of the vote, but failed to make the run-off.
The Baria-Sherman run-off will be cast as a battle between a traditional Democrat in Baria and an outsider Sherman, whose Democratic bona fides are a concern among many in the party.
Typically, orthodoxy might be expected to rule the day in the run-off. Sherman, a native Californian is a relatively recent arrival in Mississippi, establishing a part-time residency in the state where his wife, actress Sela Ward, grew up. Sherman is also a recent convert to the Democratic Party, too, something that arouses suspicion in the party.
Baria, on the other hand, has worked his way up through the state's Democratic Party, first as a state senator and then as a two-term state representative, where is currently the party leader in the House.
But there is another dynamic in play here and the outcome is far from assured.
While the difference in vote totals in the primary are negligible, Sherman may have solidified his position after Scott gave him her endorsement. Scott won 20 counties in the primary, largely in the Pine Belt area of the state.
Scott's endorsement has been the surprise of the race. With Baria supported by almost every member of the state's Black Legislative Caucus, that Scott would break ranks against her House colleague could push Sherman over the top.
And that outcome, particularly, would be disastrous for the Democrats.
One look at the June 5 votes is all you need to know to understand this. On June 5, 155,000 Republicans voted in the primary, even though Roger Wicker faced only nominal opposition. Just 85,000 turned out for the contested Democratic primary.
When 70,000 more Republicans go to the polls than Democrats, it gives you a pretty clear idea of just how large a challenge either Sherman or Baria face in November.
A Sherman win -- and right now he appears to have the best shot -- would be ruinous to the slim chances the Democrat have to beat Wicker.
While Sherman voters might support Baria, there are probably enough Baria voters, whose suspicion of Sherman is almost palpable, who would simply not turn out to vote at all.
And, as we understand, the Democratic nominee will need every vote it can muster to spring the upset in November.
That the party could split its vote in the face of these odds tells you much about the party's organization and viability.
A divided Democratic Party has zero chance of success in November.
With apologies to Kermit the Frog, being green is no big deal in Mississippi.
But it sure ain't easy being Blue.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]