- The Washington Times - Monday, November 3, 2003

JACKSON, Miss. — Haley Barbour is trying to prove Mississippi can join the ranks of Southern states with viable Republican parties in tomorrow’s gubernatorial election, and suburban counties where President Bush campaigned with him on Saturday are critical to that effort.

“This is an example of suburban Republicans — ones that are very strong supporters of the president, for our two [Republican] senators,” said Rep. Roger Wicker, a Republican from northern Mississippi.

That begs the question: Why bring the president to a place where Republicans believe they already have the votes?

After Lt. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, a Democrat, nearly won DeSoto County in 1999 en route to winning the governorship, Republicans vowed not to let that happen again.

Republicans say the president’s visit, and the turnout of about 9,000 people at the rally, will energize the region and help it return to being a Republican stronghold as Mr. Barbour tries to unseat Mr. Musgrove.

“We’re not going to lose in the last four days before an election,” Mr. Wicker said.

While Mr. Barbour was using the ultimate political star to draw out his base, Mr. Musgrove was campaigning at the homecoming of Jackson State University, where white faces are just as rare as black faces are in DeSoto.

That racial divide underlies Mississippi politics. Blacks make up 36.3 percent of the state’s 2.8 million residents — the highest percentage among the 50 states.

One poll showed Mr. Barbour winning 70 percent of the white vote, while Mr. Musgrove had the support of 83 percent of black voters.

Given that, the locations the two men chose on Saturday weren’t surprising.

Jackson, the state capital with a population of 184,256, is 70 percent black, according to the 2000 census. DeSoto County is 11.4 percent black, and Harrison County, along the Gulf Coast, where the president also campaigned Saturday, is about 21 percent black.

The latest polls show conflicting results. In a poll released Friday, Mr. Musgrove lead Mr. Barbour 42 percent to 41 percent, while two other polls last week showed Mr. Barbour up by about five percentage points.

One pollster told a local news station that two-thirds of the undecided voters were white, which bodes well for Mr. Barbour.

Neither of the candidates had public events yesterday, but some newspapers made their picks.

The Jackson Clarion-Ledger endorsed Mr. Musgrove based on his first-term accomplishments in education while the Hattiesburg American endorsed Mr. Barbour, arguing that his national experience and connections make him the more visionary candidate and more likely to obtain federal aid.

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