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Analysis: Sherman backs Democrats after pain of Senate loss

JEFF AMY

Howard Sherman was already wondering why Mississippi Democrats seemed so unreceptive to his message before his runoff loss Tuesday.

“I’m battling ‘What’s the point?’ a lot,” Sherman told The Associated Press six days before state House minority leader David Baria beat him soundly for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate. “There seems to be a very entrenched interest in not changing.”

Maybe that was a recognition that the brand of change Sherman was pitching wasn’t going to carry the day, as Baria’s legislative allies and others in the Democratic establishment rallied to support the person they knew.

The clear implication was that Sherman couldn’t be trusted, after having been a registered Republican in California and having given money to Republican U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi in what Sherman defended as an effort to block the ambitions of state Sen. Chris McDaniel. The tea party-backed McDaniel initially prepared to challenge Wicker this year after nearly defeating Republican U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran in 2014.

Baria has long had a Republican target in his home district in Hancock County. He may have been used to the rough-and-tumble of politics, but it was new for Sherman, a venture capitalist who adopted Meridian as his home after years in California. And the sting of those attacks, and getting beaten pretty handily, clearly showed on election night, as he painted Baria someone who couldn’t make a difference.

“From the beginning, it was a square peg in a round hole,” Sherman said. “I thought the state was ready for something different. I thought the state was tired of being 50th. But they voted for a shepherd of 50th.”

Sherman seemed to think better of his initial sour reaction. He told the AP in a second phone call Tuesday night that “I still absolutely want to see Democrats win both seats in November,” referring not only to Baria’s race against Wicker, but also to former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy’s bid in a special election where he will face Republicans Cindy Hyde-Smith and McDaniel. Gov. Phil Bryant elevated Hyde-Smith from state agriculture commissioner to U.S. senator in April when he appointed her to fill the vacancy after Cochran retired.

On Wednesday, Sherman sent a mass email saying he would support Democrats this year and in the future and urged supporters to “donate to the state party now.”

It’s unclear how Democrats will regard Sherman in the future, or if he will have any interest in running for office again. But it’s easy to imagine a scenario where Sherman is steaming toward an intriguing general election as the Democratic nominee for a different office. Sherman said that before he decided to run for Senate, he considered running for the open seat of retiring U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper in the 3rd Congressional District.

The $850,000 that Sherman raised for his Senate campaign would have been formidable in the district, which spans 24 counties from the state’s southwest corner through parts of Jackson and its suburbs to Meridian and Starkville. Compare that to current Democratic nominee Michael Ted Evans. It’s hard to tell how much money the state House member and chicken farmer from Preston has raised, but it can’t be much. Evans still hadn’t filed campaign finance forms with the Federal Election Commission as of Friday.

Going against Republican nominee Michael Guest, the district attorney for Madison and Rankin counties, would have been a tough race, but it wouldn’t have been harder than challenging Wicker.

Sherman signed his email by saying “our potential is great. Let’s keep that hope alive.”

What Sherman’s potential is in Mississippi, and whether his hopes are alive, remains to be seen.

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Jeff Amy has covered politics and government for The Associated Press in Mississippi since 2011. Follow him at http://twitter.com/jeffamy . Read his work at https://www.apnews.com/By%20Jeff%20Amy .

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