With less than two weeks to go before Election Day and polling numbers showing the special Mississippi Senate election to be within the margin of error, former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove (D) held a campaign event this week with Virginia Sen. Jim Webb (D).
The pairing of Webb and Musgrove was no accident.
Not only is Musgrove attempting to emulate the success that Webb had in 2006 when he came from behind to win a Senate race in what had been Republican territory, but, like Webb, Musgrove is doing so with a huge assist from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
The latest spending numbers show that the DSCC has dropped some $5 million into the Mississippi Senate contest as Democrats seek to knock off appointed Sen. Roger Wicker (R) in the special election to fill the vacancy created when Sen. Trent Lott (R) resigned at the end of 2007. Some Republicans say they wouldnt be surprised if DSCC spending reached $6 million or even $7 million by Election Day.
By contrast, the National Republican Senatorial Committee has spent just more than $2.5 million in the Magnolia State as of this week.
The DSCC is spending more money than has ever been spent on a candidate in the history of the state by an outside group, Wicker spokesman Ryan Annison said this week. But were going to win, and then theyll have to tell you whether it was a waste of money or not.
DSCC spokesman Matthew Miller recalled that there was a time during the 2006 cycle in Virginia (before former Republican Sen. George Allens now-infamous macaca moment) that a lot of Republicans and national pundits thought the committee was wasting its resources by helping to lay the groundwork for Webb in what was then viewed as a solidly Republican state.
It is always difficult to win in deeply red states like Mississippi, but we have invested resources here because Ronnie Musgrove is an excellent candidate, and as we go down to the wire he has a great chance to win, Miller said.
Thanks to his stint in the governors mansion, Musgrove came into the special election race with greater name recognition than Wicker, but the Republican was viewed as the early frontrunner because of the strength of the GOP machine in the state and his strong fundraising. And throughout the campaign, Wicker has maintained his fundraising edge over Musgrove.
In the third quarter of the year, Wicker raised $1.15 million and reported $1.66 million in cash on hand as of Sept. 30. Musgrove raised $744,000 and had $460,000 in cash on hand. Over the entire cycle Wicker raised $4.4 million to Musgroves $2 million.
But the sheer weight of the national partys spending has forced this race into the tossup category with less than two weeks to go.
The Musgrove campaign is one of those few illustrations where the party campaign committee has really hoisted the candidate on their shoulders, said Richard Forgette, chairman of the University of Mississippis political science department.
Or as one Mississippi GOP insider lamented this week, If Wicker didnt have to run against the DSCC, he wouldnt have a race.
Most Mississippi insiders believe that on Nov. 4 the race will come down to a battle for Mississippis Gulf Coast-based 4th district.
Wicker is best known in northern Mississippis 1st district, which he represented in the House for seven terms before being tapped by Gov. Haley Barbour (R) to replace Lott. And despite Democrats picking up the district in a spring special election, Wicker is still well-loved there, especially in his Tupelo base.
Mississippis 2nd district, with a 63 percent black and 35 percent white population, is expected to be a Democratic stronghold in the Senate race. The 2nd district went for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) by nearly 20 points in the 2004 White House election.
The racial profile of the central 3rd- district seat is nearly a mirror opposite, with a 64 percent white and 33 percent black population. President Bush won the 3rd by nearly 30 points in 2004.
That leaves the 4th district, which is represented by Rep. Gene Taylor, who is among the most conservative Democrats in the House. The 4th district is geographically the farthest away from Wickers base and, perhaps recognizing an early name identification problem, it was the first place where Wicker went on the air with television ads back in May. Of Wickers first four ads of the cycle, three focused on Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts and the Gulf Coast.
Wicker is expected to benefit from appearing on a ticket that includes popular Sen. Thad Cochran (R), who is running for his sixth term. Interestingly, Wicker has yet to use Cochran in a television ad, nor has he run television spots featuring Barbour or Lott (although all three well-known Mississippi Republicans have made appearances and helped raise money for Wicker).
Weve yet to capitalize on [using Cochran, Lott and Barbour in ads], but it doesnt mean we wont, Annison said.
Meanwhile, Democrats say Sen. Barack Obamas (D-Ill.) candidacy will serve to boost black turnout in a state where 36 percent of the population is African-American, and that will help Musgrove immensely.
But in this contest some officials on both sides say the downballot effect will be complicated by the fact that Wicker and Musgrove will appear on the ballot without their party IDs, as state law requires for special elections.
Forgette said he believes any confusion over which candidate is the Democrat and which candidate is the Republican will be minimal.
Both candidates have been branded, Forgette said. I think there probably isnt that much confusion given the nasty commercials weve been seeing in Mississippi with regards to the race.