June 28, 2018 10:43:18 AM
The primaries are over and the stage is set for one of the most unusual general elections in our state history.
On Nov. 6, Mississippi voters will elect not one, but two U.S. Senators.
In Tuesday's Democratic Primary race, state rep. David Baria of Bay St. Louis easily defeated newcomer Howard Sherman of Meridian with Baria erasing a slight deficit from the June 5 primary. In the three weeks between the primary and run-off, Baria leaned heavily on soliciting help from the Democratic Party establishment in the state.
That support was enough to turn a 700-vote deficit into a 12,500-vote victory, but the muscle exerted by local Democratic leaders was not universal. Five days before the run-off, Baria met with Democratic office-holders from Lowndes and Oktibbeha counties at the Lowndes County Courthouse, where virtually all of the Democratic office-holders pronounced their unwavering support for Baria and commitment to getting out the vote on his behalf.
Oktibbeha County went for Baria in a big way -- 885 votes to 302 -- but Sherman again carried Lowndes County, picking up 508 votes to Baria's 438.
The larger point to be noted was the turnout. Even when taking into consideration that there were no Republicans on the ballot Tuesday, the turn-out was nothing short of appalling -- about 6 percent in Oktibbeha County and 4% in Lowndes County.
If enthusiasm is measured by voter turnout, Mississippians were about as interested in the Baria-Sherman contest as they were in the Iceland-Croatia World Cup match.
Admittedly, primary turn-outs are historically low and the November general election will certainly draw far more voters.
But if Baria is to upset Wicker in November, it would be an upset of epic proportions.
It's not just a matter of getting Democrats to turn out, it's a matter of getting Democrats, period.
Because Mississippi does not require voters to register by party, there is no reliable data on just how many Mississippians are consistent Democratic voters.
The best indicator of Democratic support in the state at its strongest came in 2012, when 563,000 Mississippians voted to reelected President Obama. Even then, the state's six electoral votes went to Mitt Romney, who piled up 711,000 votes and Obama won just 44 percent of the vote.
Then there is the matter of money. Right now, Wicker has about $3.5 million in cash on hand. Baria has $52,000. While Baria did overcome a 3-to-1 spending deficit against Sherman, he'll need a serious infusion of cash to mount a serious challenge to Wicker.
The Baria camp hopes the national party will come to his aid on the finance front. But a cold, hard analysis by the national party might justifiably conclude that the smart money in Mississippi should be spent on the other Senate race, where former U.S. Representative and Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy faces Republicans Cindy Hyde-Smith and Chris McDaniel in the non-partisan special election.
Espy will likely lead the way after the Nov. 6 vote as Hyde-Smith and McDaniel split the GOP vote.
But in the run-off, Espy will again face an uphill climb against whoever the GOP nominee happens to be.
The Democrats' best hope is for a particularly nasty campaign between Hyde-Smith and McDaniel, one that would keep the loser's supporters away from the polls on Nov. 6.
If the Democrats want to take control of the U.S. Senate during the mid-terms, the national party will have to commit resources to some races where the party is an underdog. Mississippi certainly qualifies.
Will the national party place any bets on either Democratic candidate?
Given the practical realities of Mississippi politics, it's a hard case to make.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]