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PAC money driving Senate race; Wicker in lead with $1 million

It has become impossible to watch the evening news without commercial breaks filled with political advertisements for U.S. Senate candidates Roger Wicker or Ronnie Musgrove. Political committees supporting either candidate have also had their say over the airwaves.

Likewise, the state’s roadways have become advertising battlegrounds. Signs and billboards are everywhere.

Such political marketing does not come cheap. It takes hordes of money.

That is where campaign contributors enter the picture.

A glance at Wicker’s and Musgrove’s campaign finance reports show some names familiar to Mississippi business people.

While the donations are not given in the name of businesses, individual employees who have to list their place of work line each candidate’s balance sheet.

A small sampling of the listed donors shows folks who work for Cal-Maine Foods in Jackson, Brown Bottling Group, Entergy Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas, Horne CPA Group, Southern Beverage Company, Mississippi Power Company. The most famous name on Wicker’s list is Barbour — that of Gov. Haley Barbour and several of his relatives.

The biggest difference between the two donor lists is the amount. As of June 30, the latest deadline for filing, Wicker had brought in $4.1 million; Musgrove reported a little more than $1 million.

While Wicker, the Republican, and Musgrove, the Democrat, share a lot of the same individual donors, the political action committee (PAC) donors could not be any more ideologically different. Wicker has enjoyed contributions from PACs formed by medical groups, banking groups, oil industry groups and insurance groups. Musgrove lists money from PACs associated with union organizations such as the AFL-CIO. Another vast difference is the amount of PAC money given. Wicker has raked in a little more than $1 million in PAC money; Musgrove reports $185,000.

The Wicker-Musgrove race has garnered a lot of attention nationally, with each party tabbing former Sen. Trent Lott’s seat as a must-have.

“All indications are that this race has really been lit up on the national scene,” said Marty Wiseman, director of Mississippi State University’s Stennis Institute of Government. “When that happens, the PACs get heavily involved, and that is certainly the case with this race.”

Republicans and Democrats each hold 49 seats in the 100-member Senate. The two independents, though, generally vote with the Democrats, giving them a 51-49 majority the party is eager to expand with November’s elections. That has created a sense of political urgency on each side in the Wicker-Musgrove race.

“This really may be the most closely-watched Senate race in the country right now because it is so close,” Wiseman said. “The Democrats are trying to gain a super-majority, and the Republicans absolutely can’t lose Trent Lott’s seat.”

Thus the all-out effort from both camps to bring in as much money as they can so each can assault the airwaves with advertisements. Many times, the two candidates’ commercials run back-to-back, whether they’re produced by candidate committees or PACs.

“(The tight polling numbers) certainly gives you a reason to do a commercial,” Wiseman said. “And they usually focus on simple issues that the average voter can relate to. It can’t be anything too complex or it will confuse the voter and eventually lose him. You have to find an element that connects immediately. I’m more convinced that you can find one or two gut-level issues — guns, abortion and the economy are probably the most popular here in Mississippi — and just keep sounding your stance on each of them.”

Recent polling numbers from both camps have their respective candidates with a lead in the single-digit percentage point range.

“But I really discount numbers from each side,” Wiseman said. “When you’re that close, there is no margin for error.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at clay.chandler@ msbusiness.com .

About Clay Chandler

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