The Mississippi race between Democratic former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and Republican Sen. Roger Wicker distills the wide range of factors that have put congressional Republicans in their weakest position since the Watergate scandal of the 1970s.
The overall political climate, shaped by the sluggish economy and President Bush’s low approval ratings, is souring many voters on Republicans. The party has been hobbled by a stampede of retirements by senior Republicans, including Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott. After Lott quit in 2007, Wicker was appointed to replace him.
Barack Obama’s presidential campaign has generated a big boost in Democratic voter registration, especially among African Americans, who make up more than a third of Mississippi’s population. Other quirks, such as ethics scandals, are putting more Republican Senate seats at risk than seemed likely a year ago.
In June 2007, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report identified only one race for a Republican Senate seat as a real tossup. Now it identifies seven Republican seats as at risk.