The story is being updated and will include a final vote tally as it becomes available. See updated results at thedmonline.com
Roger Wicker, Mississippi’s incumbent Republican U.S. senator, defeated David Baria, the state’s House minority leader, on Tuesday in the regularly scheduled midterm election. In the state’s special Senate election, interim Republican U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and former Democratic U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy will head to a runoff election that will take place on Nov. 27.
The runoff election will be historic for the state because voters will either elect the state’s first female senator or the state’s first African-American senator since Reconstruction.
Long lines at polling precincts in the state mirrored long lines across the country as turnout surpassed levels expected for non-presidential elections.
Wicker, a resident of Tupelo, defeated Baria with 58.9 percent of the vote and ran on a platform of increasing the nation’s defense and cutting federal regulations.
“I’m very, very pleased (with the election results),” Wicker said in a telephone interview with The Daily Mississippian. “I look forward to the opportunity to enact policies that will improve the lives of Americans, of Mississippians.”
Wicker said he was disappointed in the Democrats gaining control of the House but said it “was not the ‘blue wave’ everyone thought it would be.”
“I think Mississippi voters are conservative and support the policies that this Republican Congress has been implementing, and I look forward to continuing that,” Wicker said.
Wicker said he thinks he will become the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, and he will use that position to advocate for college students and millennials.
“I think by expanding broadband in Mississippi, we can stop the ‘brain drain,’” Wicker said. “Everything I do, from protecting social security and entitlements for generations to come, will benefit college students.”
Baria, who represents Hancock County in the state legislature, ran a progressive campaign that focused on improving the overall image of the state and advocating for measures to fix the state’s infrastructure problem.
Baria’s campaign manager, Alyssa Miller, said even though Baria lost, he has started a larger conversation in Mississippi, and his campaign marks a new chapter in Mississippi politics by having a candidate running “who represents what (Mississippians) talk about on a daily basis.”
“I think he’s elevated himself on a national platform and around the state,” Miller said. “He’s going to be able to use his platform, not only as minority leader but also as the Democratic nominee, to elevate those issues he discussed on the campaign trail.”
She said Baria plans to continue using his position in the state legislature by discussing solutions to the state’s brain drain and making education more affordable for students.
“David really changed what it meant to be a Southern Democrat,” Miller said.
Melissa Scallan, communications director for Hyde-Smith’s campaign, said the campaign was pleased with the election and looks forward to the runoff.
Scallan said she and Hyde-Smith have not discussed the campaign’s strategy for the runoff in detail, but the campaign will “promote the good things going on in the country.”
Scallan did not say whether or not Hyde-Smith would agree to debate with Espy in the weeks leading up to the election, but she said Hyde-Smith “would consider it, and that’s one of the many things we’ll talk about this week.”
Jonathan Winburn, an associate professor of political science at the university, said he thought Wicker’s win was “pretty standard” because most Republican candidates get around 60 percent of the vote in Mississippi.
Winburn said he was not surprised that the idea of a ‘blue wave’ coming to Mississippi did not pan out.
“I don’t think that’s a huge shock, even though there were some hopes on the Democratic side there might be something that the Democrats could sneak out here,” Winburn said.
Mississippians also voted to re-elect incumbent U.S. Reps. Trent Kelly, Steven Palazzo and Bennie Thompson to the U.S. House of Representative. Michael Guest won the election for the Third Congressional seat that was left open by U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper’s retirement.
Nationally, Democrats were projected to take control of the House of Representatives as of midnight on election night, and Republicans maintained control of the Senate.
Representatives from McDaniel and Espy’s campaign could not be reached for comment at the time of publication.