- The Washington Times - Friday, May 30, 2008

A new poll shows Democrats have a serious shot at capturing Mississippi’s Senate seat that one-time Republican power broker Trent Lott occupied for nearly two decades - potentially adding to the bad news the Republican Party has experienced in the Deep South.

The Rasmussen Reports survey released yesterday shows former Mississippi Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, a Democrat, in a statistical dead heat with Republican Sen. Roger Wicker, who was appointed to the post when Mr. Lott stepped down from office five months ago.

Mr. Musgrove leads 47 percent to 46 percent, well within the telephone survey’s 4.5 percentage-point margin of error.

“Every day we see more evidence that Roger Wicker just hasn’t been able to solidify his standing with Mississippi voters since being appointed,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) spokesman Matthew Miller said.

“It’s clear Mississippians want change in Washington, and all Roger Wicker is offering them is more of the same failed status quo.”

Republican officials dismissed the poll as unreliable because the election is more than five months away and because Mr. Musgrove’s status as a former statewide official gives him an early name-recognition advantage.

“I think it’s too early to take much notice of these automated polls since most voters have yet to engage in down-ballot candidates due to the presidential race saturation in the media,” said Rebecca Fisher, spokeswoman with the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

“We believe this race will be a tough one but are fully confident Senator Wicker will be returned to Washington,” she said.

Mr. Wicker holds a four-point advantage among those unaffiliated with either major party, the poll shows.

Mr. Musgrove is supported by 81 percent of Democrats polled, while Mr. Wicker’s Republican support is at 76 percent.

Mr. Lott held the seat for Republicans for almost 19 years, succeeding Democratic Sen. John Stennis who retired in 1989 after serving more than 41 years in the Senate.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a Republican, on Dec. 31 appointed Mr. Wicker, a seven-term U.S. House member, to succeed Mr. Lott, who stepped down days earlier. Mr. Wicker will serve until a special election Nov. 4 to fill the remainder of Mr. Lott’s six-year term, which runs until January 2013.

The appointment also was intended to give Republicans a boost in the special election because Mr. Wicker would be running as an 11-month incumbent.

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, a Democrat, has disputed the timing of the November election, saying it must be held within 90 days after the appointment. But the state Supreme Court ruled the November date will stand.

Democrats this month added two new members to Congress when Travis Childers in Mississippi and Don Cazayoux in Louisiana won special House elections in districts long held by Republicans. And in March, Democrat Bill Foster won a special election in Illinois to fill the seat formerly held for more than 20 years by House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican.

Mr. Musgrove leads by 10 points among women but trails by eight among men, according to the Rasmussen survey. The Democratic challenger leads among voters younger than 50, while the Republican incumbent leads among those 50 and older.

The Rasmussen poll of 500 likely voters follows one released last week by the DSCC that showed Mr. Musgrove leading 48 percent to 40 percent, and another by Research 2000 that has Mr. Wicker ahead 46 percent to 42 percent.

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