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RNC, DNC Fly South in Final Week of Campaign

With a week to go before Election Day, lawmakers and operatives in both parties are descending on competitive gubernatorial races in three key Southern states.

While political strategists are watching the off-year statehouse contests in Mississippi, Kentucky and Louisiana for clues to how next year’s presidential and Congressional elections will go, some Members and staffers are getting involved on the ground.

At the party level, both the Republican National Committee and Democratic National Committee have dispatched teams to the three states.

The RNC is again deploying its “72 Hour Task Force,” a program similar to the one it utilized leading up to last November’s elections.

“It’s getting the grassroots people on the ground to do the nuts-and-bolts work that you need to do to win elections,” said RNC spokeswoman Christine Iverson, estimating that the RNC will have about 400 volunteers on the ground in the three states.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee will also be pitching in to the RNC effort, as some of its staffers will take a break from the Senate battleground to help out on the gubernatorial front.

“We have a contingent of volunteers going at least to Kentucky through the 72 Hour Task Force,” said NRSC spokesman Dan Allen.

The DNC, meanwhile, has had staffers working the statehouse races for several weeks, according to spokesman Tony Welch. He said that about 30 DNC workers would be in the field next Tuesday.

At the Congressional level, Members will also be working to boost their parties’ chances.

In Mississippi, several GOP lawmakers have come to the aid of megalobbyist Haley Barbour, who is running to unseat Gov. Ronnie Musgrove (D). Recent polls show Barbour with a narrow lead, but both sides expect the race to go down to the wire.

Rep. Chip Pickering (R) campaigned for Barbour on Monday morning, and later in the day both he and Rep. Roger Wicker (R) were scheduled to attend as Vice President Cheney stumped for Barbour in Columbus.

“Both Wicker and Pickering have been very helpful,” said Barbour spokesman Quinton Dickerson.

In addition to hitting the campaign trail, Republican Members have also pitched in to help Barbour on the airwaves. Magnolia State Sens. Thad Cochran and Trent Lott have both recorded television commercials for the candidate.

Along with Cheney’s visit, Barbour’s campaign will get additional help from outside the state in the coming days. President Bush is scheduled to travel to Mississippi on his behalf this Saturday, and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) will be pitching in as well.

Mississippi isn’t the only state Bush will visit this weekend. His itinerary also includes a trip to Kentucky to help the gubernatorial candidacy of Rep. Ernie Fletcher (R).

Fletcher, whom recent polls show leading state Attorney General Ben Chandler (D), has gotten plenty of assistance from his fellow Members. Kentucky GOP Reps. Anne Northup and Ed Whitfield have both traveled with Fletcher, while Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) has recorded radio ads for him.

The Washington-based Republican Governors Association has also pitched in, running independent ads slamming Chandler’s record as attorney general.

Now, another D.C. group is returning the favor. The New Democrat Network is set to begin airing four television ads today, some praising Chandler and others hitting Fletcher. The spots, which were produced by Squier Knapp Dunn, will run in all of Kentucky’s major markets.

In Louisiana, meanwhile, Republican and Democratic lawmakers have coalesced around their respective parties’ gubernatorial nominees following a contentious primary campaign.

On the GOP side, former Health and Human Services Department official Bobby Jindal picked up the endorsement last week of Rep. Billy Tauzin (R), who had supported state Rep. Hunt Downer (R) in the primary. GOP Reps. Jim McCrery and David Vitter had already backed Jindal.

Across the aisle, Democratic Rep. Chris John gave his endorsement Monday to his party’s gubernatorial nominee, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Blanco.

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