Interesting Mississippi-focused segment on NPR's Morning Edition today. Reporter Debbie Elliot takes a look at Mississippi politics, and the Musgrove-Wicker senate race particularly, from the historic Neshoba County Fair:
Longtime Republican Senate leader Trent Lott won re-election in landslides, but now that land is sliding. His once comfy seat in Mississippi is up for grabs. Republican Sen. Roger Wicker, appointed after Lott retired last year, faces former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove in what pundits are calling the Deep South contest of the year.
And that has brought the candidates to the summer political tradition of the year — the Neshoba County Fair. It's a 10-day tent revival meeting in the red clay hills near Philadelphia in east Mississippi — except that the tents are two- and three-story cabins, 600 of them, lined up beyond the carnival rides and cow barns.
More below the fold, and cross-posted, as always, at The Thorn Papers. Y'all come by now.
Elliot finds that Wicker is (shocker, I know) sticking to the same strategy that failed the GOP back in May's MS-01 Special election, trying to tie the local Democratic candidate to the national party, counting on the same liberal bogeyman to rally Mississippi Republicans. Well, it didn't work then, and it's not certain it will work now.
But that doesn't mean Roger won't give it the good old college try:
"When you're at the Neshoba County Fair, you know you're in the heart and soul of Mississippi," says Wicker, 57, a lawyer, long-time congressman and former state senator. He's on a stage in the fair's pavilion, where hundreds of people have crowded onto rustic wooden pews.Wicker has a receptive audience in this nearly all-white, rural crowd. A few folks in the front rows have made signs juxtaposing Democrat Ronnie Musgrove with a few national Democrats who are not so popular here: Hillary Clinton, Al Gore and Barack Obama. Wicker also makes the link.
"My opponent is the Democratic national nominee for U.S. senator," Wicker says. "Barack Obama is certainly supporting Ronnie Musgrove. He's raising money for him, working for him and wants Ronnie elected."
Remember that in Sid Salter's dispatch from Neshoba we learned that the "rustic wooden pews" were stacked with bussed in Wicker supporters, to "create an image pervasive widespread support" (which, it should be noted, Wicker does not have). So take his showing at the - admittedly and historically very conservative-friendly Neshoba County Fair - with at least a grain of salt. Likewise with Musgrove's positioning at the Fair:
Musgrove, a 52-year-old lawyer, does benefit from Obama's popularity among African-Americans in Mississippi. And blacks make up more than one-third of the electorate. But that's not something Musgrove touts to the crowd in Neshoba County, where the thing to advertise is conservative credentials.
"Make no mistake about it," Musgrove tells the crowd. "I'm a Mississippi Democrat, pro life and pro gun." It's the same strategy Democrat Travis Childers used to win Wicker's north Mississippi House seat earlier this year. That victory has political observers wondering if the Republican hold on the Deep South is slipping.
Elliot touches on history, too, via Salter, again:
"1980 was the watershed," says Sid Salter, a columnist with the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson. "When Reagan Republican politics came to Mississippi, it had ripples that carried on. I think now the pendulum may be swinging back."
Salter says Mississippi Republicans like Trent Lott found success using Reagan's formula: looking back to better times and emphasizing issues of faith and family values. "The challenge for Roger Wicker right now is that when people go through the checkout line or the gas station, they're not feeling warm and fuzzy."
No, they are most certainly not feeling warm and fuzzy. they're under pressure, and in many cases, rural Mississippians are hurting disproportionately more from the price of gasand other economic burdens.
This thing is a toss-up right now, despite the Mississippi and national GOP coming in strong for Wicker, despite his fundraising advantage, and despite the historically safe-Republican nature of the seat. That ought to tell you something.
In any case, the audio of the segment is longer and more detailed than NPR's print version, and I encourage you to give it a listen. And let me say once again how refreshing it is to see national eyes turned toward Mississippi politics. After years of being ignored by the media, surrendered by the Democrats, and taken for granted by the Republicans it's nice to see our state making political news.