- The Washington Times - Monday, November 3, 2003

HATTIESBURG, Miss. — Despite President Bush’s campaign visits and national Democrats’ desire to use Mississippi as a check on Republican momentum going into 2004, both gubernatorial candidates said the race won’t say much about the national stage.

Both incumbent Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and Republican challenger Haley Barbour say they have not campaigned on sending a message to Washington.

“We have not run on that message,” said Mr. Barbour, although he added that this does not mean national Democrats wouldn’t try to portray a Barbour loss that way.

“The national Democrats don’t care who the governor of Mississippi is,” Mr. Barbour said. “But because I was chairman of the national [Republican] Party, because I was chairman when Bush got elected governor [of Texas in 1994], because I was on his 10-member exploratory committee and because I appeared on television so much in the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2000, the Democrats have it in their head if they can beat me that will be seen as a defeat for Bush.”

Mr. Musgrove, though, said that has not been the message of his campaign.

“You’ve heard none of us say that,” he told reporters yesterday at a stop in Hattiesburg, where he told an audience at a Boys and Girls Club that he wants another term to continue his work on education.

Mr. Musgrove said the race was strictly about the two candidates and their state. He has spent most of the race trying to portray Mr. Barbour as a Washington insider whose ties have hurt Mississippi.

“My opponent spent the last 20 years as a multimillionaire Washington, D.C., lobbyist, representing countries and companies that don’t care about us, the people of Mississippi, our families, or good jobs for our good people,” he said.

But he told the gathering the race will send a message about what kind of state Mississippi is.

“[Election] night we can send a signal to all the high-powered reporters and television people from across America that we believe, in Mississippi, in leadership. We believe in putting Mississippi first,” Mr. Musgrove said.

National Republicans certainly have invested themselves. Mr. Bush has made two visits, including a two-stop swing Saturday. Former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and former Sen. Bob Dole also have campaigned with Mr. Barbour.

Meanwhile, Mr. Barbour pointed out that Mr. Musgrove campaigned for Vice President Al Gore in Mississippi during the 2000 presidential race. This year, no national Democratic figure has campaigned with Mr. Musgrove.

But Mr. Barbour said he hasn’t nationalized the election, and said the national figures who have campaigned for him in the last week have been focused on turnout.

Both men are running as pro-life supporters of gun rights. Mr. Musgrove has the endorsement of the National Rifle Association, while Mr. Barbour has the endorsement of former NRA President Charlton Heston. Mr. Musgrove also has said he will not raise taxes in the next four years.

National politicians will be watching the election turnout. Republicans have tried to establish a 72-hour task force, which they believe was successful in the 2002 federal elections.

Mr. Barbour said his campaign have a task force in every county in the state working, and he predicted a large turnout that would bode well for Republicans.

“If there’s a big turnout … it’s good for me. But it’s going to be a close election,” he said.

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