The matchup between Roger Wicker and Ronnie Musgrove is the first competitive U.S. Senate race in Mississippi in 20 years. This is a state that changes senators very rarely; we’d had only two transitions in the last 65 years before Gov. Haley Barbour appointed Wicker last Dec. 31 to replace Trent Lott.
The first transition came in 1978, when Thad Cochran won the seat vacated by Jim Eastland, who had served 35 years. The second was in 1988, when John Stennis – in office since 1947 – retired and Lott was elected to replace him.
So this one’s historic. Even though Wicker is the incumbent by appointment, it’s still essentially an open seat since the voters haven’t yet spoken. Polls and pundits are calling the race a toss-up at this stage, which is a surprise, given the recent history of Republican dominance in statewide federal elections here.
But we all know this year is different for a variety of reasons, as already demonstrated in Democrat Travis Childers’ upset win in the 1st Congressional District special election. The economy, the wars, health care and other national issues are part of the mix in Republican vulnerability. But just as there were unique local circumstances in Childers’ win, so too are there in the Wicker-Musgrove battle.