David Baria isn’t running the moderate Democratic playbook.
Across the South, an array of Democrats running for offices tout conservative credentials on key issues and distance themselves from the national party and its leadership.
Baria isn’t doing that in his campaign to win the chance to take on incumbent U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, a Republican.
“I reject labels so I’m going to run the type of campaign that I want to run, and I hope that people find it refreshing,” Baria said after a recent campaign stop in Tupelo. “I’m talking about the issues that I think resonate with people. I’m going to run the kind of campaign where I lay it out on the table.”
In a state that Donald Trump won with almost 58 percent of the votes, Baria says he will serve “as a hedge against the president.”
On immigration, Baria supports a “path to citizenship” for law-abiding and productive immigrants currently living in the country without legal authorization.
Tax cuts passed by the Republican congress and signed by Trump are “a payback for Republican donors,” according to Baria.
Baria support the Affordable Care Act and wants to see some kind of public insurance option, guaranteeing everyone that wants it access to a basic standard of care.
If he’s the Democratic nominee, Baria isn’t counting on a campaign strategy designed to capture significant Republican crossover votes. Instead, he believes Democratic enthusiasm will outpace GOP presence at the voting booth while also suggesting that the most conservative voters may not cast a ballot for Wicker at all.
“We see this level of enthusiasm across the country that the Democrats haven’t had in a while,” Baria said. “I think there is an enthusiasm gap that for once in my lifetime is on our side.”
A member of the state House of Representatives from the Gulf Coast, where he leads the Democratic caucus, Baria, an attorney, faces entrepreneur and first-time candidate Howard Sherman in a Democratic runoff election Tuesday.
Baria has served in both chambers of the state legislature with about a decade of experience at the state capitol.
Campaign material from the candidate foreground his positions on so-called kitchen table issues like jobs, education and infrastructure.
And even as he’s steered a course that’s liberal by Mississippi standards, he’s quick to emphasize nuance and to insist, as he did at his last appearance in Tupelo, that he’s “not a socialist” not on the “far left.”
“I don’t talk in sound bytes,” Baria said. “I’m not going to govern in sound bites.”
For example, on healthcare, he supports shoring up the ACA but said he doesn’t support a single-payer system where the central government pays for healthcare and eliminates private insurance.
If people want to buy private insurance that exceeds the provisions of a public option, he’s fine with that.
On federal marijuana policy, Baria said he supports legalization of medical marijuana, but was uncertain on where he falls beyond that.
“I am probably going to be in favor of decriminalizing marijuana,” Baria said. “What that means, I’m still sorting out. I’m not there yet on full legalization.”
On immigration, he rejects Trump’s call for a wall and opposes child separation policies at the border but says some combination of fences, surveillance and security is needed.
He won’t have to worry about navigating these ideological currents if he can’t prevail over Sherman on Tuesday. The California native who has only been a fulltime resident of the state about two years won the most votes during the initial runoff race earlier this month, but only narrowly so.
Baria has gone after his opponent, branding Sherman a “California Republican” and citing his history of donations to Republican candidates and Republican party registration in California.
“I’m the best candidate to beat Roger Wicker,” Baria told Lee County Democrats about a week ago. “This is a test for us as Democrats.”
Tuesday’s primary race is open to registered voters who voted in the Democratic primary on June 5 as well as to voters who did not cast a ballot at all that day. Voters who participated in the June 5 Republican primary are ineligible to vote in the Democratic runoff this coming Tuesday.