As Democrat David Baria declared victory in the Democratic primary runoff for U.S. Senate at his victory party in Gulfport on Tuesday night, he made an declaration that Mississippi voters aren’t accustomed to hearing from statewide candidates: he had decided early on to not run as a “middle-of-the-road” candidate, but to run as an unapologetic Democrat.
After his speech, I caught up with Baria and asked him to expound on what he had told his supporters.
“I’m running as a Democrat,” he affirmed. “I’m not running as Republican-lite.”
For years, Democrats in Mississippi have bemoaned only having the option of casting unenthusiastic votes for ‘Republican-lite’ candidates who ran conservative campaigns, hoping to appeal to GOP voters. In 2014, some Democrats refrained from voting for Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate Travis Childers after he signed an anti-immigration pledge at the request of far-right Tea Party organizations. In the end, then-incumbent U.S. Senator Thad Cochran won in a landslide.
“I’m not running away from who I am. I’m too old. I’ve been through too much to try to be somebody I’m not.” –David Baria
But Baria said he’s not running that kind of campaign this fall when he’s set to face off with incumbent Republican Senator Roger Wicker. Not only will he not run away from the fact that he’s a Democrat, he said, but he won’t run away from the fact that he’s from the Coast and a trial lawyer, either.
“I’m not running away from who I am,” he said. “I’m too old. I’ve been through too much to try to be somebody I’m not. I’m comfortable in my own skin and I want people to get to know me and hopefully support me. But if they don’t because of who I am, I can deal with that. But I’m not going to try to be somebody I’m not.”
In the primary, Baria ran on a host of issues important to the liberal base of the party, included Medicaid expansion, support for the protections of the Affordable Care Act, and on equal pay for equal work for women.
Baria said Democrats would “absolutely” do better in the state if they ran as unapologetic Democrats.
“I’m running the kind of campaign I want. I’m running a campaign I can be proud of. And I said in the beginning that, win, lose, or draw, I want to be proud of what we do and say – and I am. And I think you can see the kind of enthusiasm that engenders, because folks wanna help me because they see me as authentic.”
Indeed, Baria’s election night watch party was full of supporters, with more than 60 supporters packing the relatively small Murky Waters BBQ his campaign had reserved for the night. His defeated opponent, Howard Sherman, on the other hand, reportedly had more reporters show up than supporters at his own election night watch party.
Baria said he understands many in Mississippi will disagree with his policy ideas, but he thinks his ‘authentic’ approach can overcome that.
“They might disagree with me on one issue or the other,” Baria said. “I’m okay with that. My wife and I don’t agree 100% of the time. So that’s okay, but you’ve got to have a conversation with people, and that’s what I want to do: I want to have a conversation with the people of Mississippi about what’s important for working people here. If they agree with me, they can get onboard regardless of my party stripes. If they don’t, that’s fine; they have another option. But I think it’s high time somebody had this conversation with Mississippi voters.”
Baria will face off against Wicker on November 6, 2018. Voters in Mississippi must be registered to vote 30 days before an election to be eligible to vote. For more information on registering to vote in the state, click here.