- The Washington Times - Monday, August 18, 2003

Haley Barbour, who helped the Republican Party win control of Congress in 1994 as chairman of the Republican National Committee, is trying to bring two-party politics to Mississippi by running for governor in November.

To accomplish his goal, he will have to defeat an incumbent Democrat, Ronnie Musgrove, in a place where Democrats have long controlled the state and local offices that constitute the backbone of politics.

“This is the first real two-party election that we’ve had since anyone can remember,” said Marty Wiseman, executive director of Mississippi State University’s John C. Stennis Institute of Government.

Mississippi joins Kentucky and Louisiana in holding gubernatorial elections this year, along with California’s recall election. In the South, the Republican Party is trying to translate popularity in federal elections to the state level.

Republicans hold both of Mississippi’s U.S. Senate seats and two of its four House seats. The state voted Republican in the last six presidential elections, but it’s a different story at the local level.

In 1991, 92 percent of Mississippians who voted in the primaries did so on the Democratic ballot. This year, three-quarters did, Mr. Wiseman said. Although the state has had a two-term Republican governor in Kirk Fordice, Mr. Musgrove’s 1999 victory was part of a sweep in which seven of eight statewide offices went to Democrats.

Mr. Musgrove came out swinging when he began his campaign late last month.

The governor tried to tie Mr. Barbour to the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement, which passed when Mr. Barbour was at the RNC. He also noted Mr. Barbour’s lobbying firm’s work for Mexico, which has been the destination for many of the 41,000 jobs that the Musgrove campaign says have fled Mississippi as a result of NAFTA.

“While he’s been fattening his wallet for the selfish interests that don’t care about us, we’ve had to fight those that haven’t been putting Mississippi first,” Mr. Musgrove said.

Mr. Barbour’s campaign sees the early attack as a sign of Mr. Musgrove’s weakness.

“Their whole campaign is based on making Haley unacceptable because the governor knows he doesn’t have a record to run on; he has a record to run from,” said Jim Perry, Mr. Barbour’s political director.

Mr. Wiseman said the charge is unlikely to stick since Mr. Barbour kept a home in Mississippi during his Washington career and traveled home several times a month to be with his family and attend events.

“Everybody knows, or is kin to, everybody else in the state of Mississippi. Haley Barbour’s family is well-known throughout the state,” he said, adding that Mr. Barbour can turn the Washington-insider argument on its head by showing it means access to key national officials.

Mr. Barbour has a three-prong platform of building the economy, improving education and fighting crime, particularly in rural areas. Mr. Musgrove is running on his record of connecting school classrooms to the Internet and cutting the inheritance tax while holding the line on other taxes.

One factor working against Mr. Musgrove is his support in 2001 for a referendum to replace the Mississippi flag, which still includes the Confederate battle emblem. The issue could tear apart the traditional Southern Democratic bloc of blacks and rural white conservatives.

“The old conservative Democrats were Confederate Democrats,” Mr. Wiseman said. “The flag thing was a nonissue with them until Musgrove made it one.”

Mr. Barbour expects to be aided by President Bush, who won Mississippi overwhelmingly in 2000 and who observers say will aid Mr. Barbour in both votes and money.

Mr. Musgrove has surprised observers by keeping on pace with Mr. Barbour in fund raising. Through July 26 — the final report before the primary — the governor had raised $5.4 million while Mr. Barbour reported $5.3 million. Mr. Barbour reported $2 million cash on hand, to Mr. Musgrove’s $4 million.

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