Miss. Senate Race Duked Out At County Fair

“My opponent is the Democratic national nominee for U.S. senator,” Wicker says. “Barack Obama is certainly supporting Ronnie Musgrove. He’s raising money for him, working for him and wants Ronnie elected.”

A Hard Sell At The Fair

Musgrove, a 52-year-old lawyer, does benefit from Obama’s popularity among African-Americans in Mississippi. And blacks make up more than one-third of the electorate. But that’s not something Musgrove touts to the crowd in Neshoba County, where the thing to advertise is conservative credentials.

“Make no mistake about it,” Musgrove tells the crowd. “I’m a Mississippi Democrat, pro life and pro gun.” It’s the same strategy Democrat Travis Childers used to win Wicker’s north Mississippi House seat earlier this year. That victory has political observers wondering if the Republican hold on the Deep South is slipping.

As a former governor, Musgrove is better known statewide than Wicker. His campaign is less about introducing himself to voters and more about trying to show he’s not aligned with the national Democratic Party.

“I will not go to Washington, D.C., and line up and vote lock step with the party,” he says. “That is not putting Mississippi first.”

Still, Musgrove is a hard sell at the fair.

“We’ve had Musgrove for governor. He didn’t do much to help us,” says James Mayfield as he sits on the cabin porch of his friends, John and Turner Smith, who are shelling butter beans. They say they got more help with Republicans in Washington, and they point out that Ronald Reagan opened his presidential campaign in Neshoba County.

“1980 was the watershed,” says Sid Salter, a columnist with the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson. “When Reagan Republican politics came to Mississippi, it had ripples that carried on. I think now the pendulum may be swinging back.”

Salter says Mississippi Republicans like Trent Lott found success using Reagan’s formula: looking back to better times and emphasizing issues of faith and family values. “The challenge for Roger Wicker right now is that when people go through the checkout line or the gas station, they’re not feeling warm and fuzzy.”

Musgrove strikes right at those economic concerns, boldly echoing Ronald Reagan. “Are you better off now than you were a few years ago?” he asks as the crowd cries, “No!”

NPR

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