- Associated Press - Monday, June 25, 2018

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi Democrats in Tuesday’s runoff gave their U.S. Senate nomination to state Rep. David Baria, lining up behind a party stalwart to challenge incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker.

Baria told supporters he has the experience to make the uphill campaign against Wicker and be a productive senator. He said he was a known and trusted quantity, pointing to his record as a state legislator. Baria said he would continue his advocacy of education, health care and transportation in Congress, and voiced opposition to President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.

“This is a change election,” Baria told The Associated Press on Tuesday night. “Democrats are excited and exuberant. Folks are ready to make some change in Washington.”

Many Democratic politicians backed Baria, the state House minority leader and an attorney, over newcomer Howard Sherman. The husband of actress Sela Ward, Sherman voted as a Republican in California and donated to Wicker. Sherman said the donation was an effort to prevent a tea party Republican from winning.

“I thought the state was ready for something different,” Sherman said. “I thought the state was tired of 50th. But they voted for a shepherd of 50th.”

Sherman and Baria were the top vote-getters in a six-candidate June 5 primary. Sherman was endorsed by state Rep. Omeria Scott, who finished third. Many other officials, including Mississippi’s only Democratic member of Congress, Rep. Bennie Thompson, endorsed Baria.

Through June 6, Baria had raised less than $300,000, while Sherman raised $850,000, including $650,000 in loans to himself.

“I think we’ve proved that money’s not everything,” said Baria, who nevertheless promised more effort on fundraising.

Wicker, who’s held the Senate seat since late 2007, coasted to a primary victory June 5. The incumbent congratulated Baria on Tuesday, but drew a quick contrast.

“I want to continue working with President Trump to grow our economy, secure our borders, and keep Americans safe,” Wicker said in a statement.

Baria criticized Wicker for “continuing to hug up” to Trump and catering to business interests.

“Roger Wicker has had 24 years in Washington and he has not served the people of Mississippi,” Baria said. “Instead he has served corporate interests.”

Baria is pitching hopes that Democrats can pick up not just one but both of Mississippi’s Senate seats. The second seat, which had been held by Thad Cochran, will be on the ballot in November in a special election. Republican U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, a former agriculture commissioner appointed to fill the vacancy by Gov. Phil Bryant, faces McDaniel and Democrat Mike Espy. The candidates run without party labels, but Baria hopes Espy, who was Mississippi’s first African-American congressman since Reconstruction and later U.S. secretary of agriculture, can excite Democrats.

Sherman portrayed himself as an outsider, saying Mississippi Democrats have faced decades of failure since John C. Stennis, the last party member to hold a Senate seat from the state, retired in 1989. Sherman touted a 100-day plan that included items focused on private-sector action instead of federal spending.

The Reform Party’s Shawn O’Hara of Hattiesburg and Libertarian Danny Bedwell of Columbus also are running in November.

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