Few Senate races could have greater impact than the matchup between appointed Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker (R) and former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove (D). If Musgrove wins, Democrats will add yet another seat to their majority. But more importantly, his victory would tell us something about Barack Obama’s effect on black-white politics and Democrats’ ability to win in the South.
It is a sign of Republican gloom that a Senate race in Mississippi appears to be highly competitive. The last time a nonincumbent Democrat was elected to the Senate from the Magnolia State was 1947, when John C. Stennis won the seat that he then held for 40 years.
The state does have vestiges of its conservative Democratic past; Democrats still control the state legislature, and both parties have held the governorship in recent years. But in most other respects, Mississippi has become a reliably Republican state. President Bush won the state by 20 percentage points in 2004, and Trent Lott and Thad Cochran easily defended their Senate seats in recent elections. Few expected that Lott’s retirement and the subsequent appointment of well-regarded Wicker, a House member for 13 years, would give Democrats much of an opening. But a combination of a good Democratic year, the recruitment of Musgrove and the wild card of Obama’s effect on black turnout have made the race too close to call.