JACKSON — Republicans may only be one seat away from a 74-seat supermajority in the Mississippi state House, a level of control would stop Democrats from blocking spending and taxing measures.
With counting concluded in Jefferson Davis County on Wednesday, Republican Noah Sanford of Seminary beat Democrat John B. Pope III of Collins in House District 90, gaining a 72nd member for the GOP. Joe Warren, a longtime Democratic House member, vacated that seat.
Republican Mark Tullos of Raleigh leads incumbent Democrat Bo Eaton of Taylorsville by six votes, as officials in Smith County examine four affidavit votes. If Tullos knocks off Eaton, Republicans would reach 73 votes.
Rep. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, holds a 45-vote lead over Republican challenger Mickey Legasse of Waveland.
The gains ensure another term for House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, who had orchestrated a campaign where most Republicans ran on the popularity of the ascendant GOP brand, linking themselves to popular Gov. Phil Bryant. Victories included beating House Minority Leader Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, and Rep. Sherra Lane, D-Waynesboro.
“Certainly our Republican majority is feeling pretty good today,” said House Speaker Pro Tem Greg Snowden, R-Meridian.
Democrats had fielded more than a dozen challengers hoping to trim the Republican edge, which stood at 67-55 before Tuesday. Those Democratic challenges fell short in most districts, though. The only exception was in Oxford, where city Alderman Jay Hughes defeated freshman Republican Rep. Brad Mayo, considered an emerging leader in Republican ranks.
Republicans took control of the House for the first time in more than 130 years in 2011, giving them control of the House, Senate and governor’s office for the first time since Reconstruction. That control allowed them to pass a redistricting plan that eliminated several Democratic seats, transferring them to areas where Republicans could pick up new open seats.
“My greatest takeaway from the legislative races is that for the first election after the Republicans gerrymandered the Senate and the House, we came out OK,” state Democratic Chairman Rickey Cole said. “We weren’t knocked down to an insignificant number as has been the case in other states where Republicans gerrymandered the districts.”
Facing little opposition in statewide races, Gov. Phil Bryant and some other Republicans had plowed resources into challenging some prominent Democrats, including Moak and Baria. Vince Mangold of Brookhaven, who beat Moak, raised more than $50,000, much of it from other Republican officials and GOP-leaning business groups.
“I know the Republicans spent a lot of money against Bobby and they ran a very strong negative campaign,” Cole said.
Gunn said Wednesday that he might try to persuade at least one Democrat to switch parties to reach the 60-percent supermajority of 74.
He would not name names, but said: “There are Democrats right now who ought to be Republican.”
Gunn said he has previously invited many Democrats to become Republican. Three Democrats crossed the aisle to become Republicans in the course of the past four years, with all breezing to re-election Tuesday.
“Whoever touches home first is a hero,” he said of a switch.
There was little change in the partisan balance in the Senate, where Republicans had held a 32-20 edge, already a supermajority there. The only close race was in southwest Mississippi, where Democrat Bob Dearing of Natchez trailed incumbent Republican Melanie Sojourner, also of Natchez, by 81 votes. Adams County officials told the Natchez Democrat that it might be Thursday before they settled absentee and affidavit votes there.
Sojourner beat Dearing four years ago to claim the seat. If she holds on, Republicans will push their edge in the Senate to 33-19.