- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Haley Barbour, former Republican Party national chairman, yesterday won endorsements from four prominent Mississippi Democrats in his quest to unseat Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove next month.

A victory by Mr. Barbour in the Nov. 4 election would help Mississippi Republicans maintain momentum in their drive to dominate politics in the once-overwhelmingly Democratic state, said state Republican Party Chairman Jim Herring.

The White House and the national Republican Party are closely watching the race. State party leaders hope that a Barbour victory will help the Republicans draw even with Democrats in the state Senate and add enough Republican seats in the Democrat-run House to sustain vetoes by Mr. Barbour should he occupy the governorship.

Mississippi Democratic Party Chairman Rickey Cole dismissed the value of the endorsements by former state Supreme Court Justice Jim Roberts, former Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Lenore Prather, former Lt. Gov. Brad Dye and Maurice Dantin, who ran unsuccessfully against Republican Thad Cochran for the Senate in 1978.

The four were among 40 Democrats, mostly lesser-known local officials, from across the state who announced their support for Mr. Barbour at a press conference in Jackson.

“In my opinion, those endorsements get Haley Barbour exactly four votes unless those fine gentlemen can get their wives to vote with them,” Mr. Cole said. “Mississippians make up their own minds when voting, and besides, all three [Democrats] were friends of Jim Herring when Herring was a Democrat.”

However, Mr. Cole later said he counted Mr. Herring as a friend. “He’s wrong, but I respect him,” Mr. Cole said.

Mr. Barbour, who turned 56 yesterday, first became a familiar face on national television when the 165-member Republican National Committee elected him as its chairman at the beginning of Bill Clinton’s presidency.

As a result, from 1993 to 1997, Mr. Barbour presented exactly the image Republicans sought to project: a smiling face and an affable personality who could nonetheless go up against the sharpest and toughest of Democratic debaters.

Mr. Herring said Mr. Barbour also has two other positive attributes going for him.

“He’s an icon for Mississippi Republicans,” who regard him as a founding father of the modern Republican Party in the state, Mr. Herring said. “And he is a guy from Yazoo who made it big outside the state but has come back” to stand for election.

Mr. Herring said that Mr. Barbour also possesses strong influence within the Bush administration and the Republican congressional leadership. The party chairman added that will be “immensely useful” when it comes to serving the financial and other needs of Mississippi, which is running a $700 million deficit.

But a problem confronting Mr. Barbour is that few issues separate him from Mr. Musgrove. Both men are opposed to abortion and legalizing homosexual “marriage.” Both also support tort reform, which Democrats nationally oppose.

Although conservative religious forces in the state opposed legalized gambling, both men also say the gaming industry, on balance, has brought more benefit than harm to the state.

One difference is that Mr. Musgrove, 77, is closer than Mr. Barbour to labor unions in the state. “There’s another difference,” said Mike Metzer of the RNC. “Haley won’t let state spending outstrip revenues, as Musgrove has done.”

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