In a race that both sides say they are winning, and one political experts say is a dead heat, the rhetoric in the race between Roger Wicker and Ronnie Musgrove to replace retired Sen. Trent Lott has focused largely on the economy.
Specifically, Wicker, a Republican, has charged that Musgrove’s tenure as governor from 1999-2003 was marred by a decline in jobs around the state. Musgrove has countered that his policies led to the creation of some 50,000 jobs in four years. And each side is not backing down from its claims.
Poll after poll has shown that, for voters, the economy is the number one issue in the every election from the one for president on down to local races.
That has held true in the Wicker-Musgrove tussle. The two sides have discussed and argued over little else other than job creation, job loss, how the economy got into the shape it’s in and how to fix it.
The two candidates battered each other with economic problems and solutions this summer at the Neshoba County Fair and continue to do so with television commercials that run nearly constantly and in stump speeches across the state.
It is an issue that each candidate is comfortable clinging to, and one that they think will resonate best with voters.
As for the differing accounts of Musgrove’s job-creation powers, “it’s just another example of how you can make numbers look basically any way you want them to,” said Marty Wiseman, director of Mississippi State’s Stennis Institute of Government. “Unless you can say your job was directly created by an action the government took, (the claims from both sides) probably are not going to leave a lasting impression.”
Wiseman noted that the manufacturing sector has taken the biggest hit, while the service sector has seen growth.
The loss in manufacturing jobs has been a favorite topic of Musgrove’s. The former governor has attributed it to free trade agreements the U.S. has made with China and South America, measures that Wicker has supported. In response, Wicker has continually pointed to data his camp says show that Musgrove was an economic train wreck that drained jobs from the state.
While both Wicker and Musgrove are hoping their economic sales pitch puts them over the top, each is counting what many experts say will be a record voter turnout generated by the hotly contested presidential election between Republican Arizona Sen. John McCain and Illinois Democratic Sen. Barack Obama.
McCain and Obama are waging, on a larger scale, the same political war in which Wicker and Musgrove are engaged, focusing on the economy, how the economy got into the shape it’s in and how to fix it.
Like Wicker and Musgrove, McCain and Obama are locked in a race the polls say is virtually even.
That will do nothing but energize the voter base for each party, Wiseman said.
“I would think the Democratic turnout would be heavy,” he said. “But you have to remember the (2001) flag vote here. Everybody thought the Delta counties, which are largely African American, would vote in bundles but that simply did not happen.”
Also of constant media interest and analysis are Obama’s race and the gender of McCain’s running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
“Palin had and will continue to have a major effect,” Wiseman said. “She kind of eliminates the stigma the Republicans have had as a party of old codgers.”
A local race that could factor into who wins the Wicker-Musgrove contest is the one to determine who will replace Wicker. A Republican stronghold since he took office in the early 1990s, Wicker’s old seat is now occupied on an interim basis by Democrat Travis Childers. Childers will face Republican Southaven Mayor Greg Davis for the right to fulfill Wicker’s unexpired term.
“And how that is going to shake out over how the First District votes in the Senate race will be very interesting to watch,” Wiseman said.
Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at clay.chandler@ msbusiness.com .