It has been 14 years since interim Republican Sen. Roger Wicker was involved in an election in which there was even a little doubt that he would be victorious.
In November 1994 Wicker, then a state senator from Tupelo, Wicker defeated Democrat Bill Wheeler for the right to represent Mississippi’s 1st Congressional District. He replaced longtime Congressman Jamie Whitten, who had retired.
Wicker was elected in the Republican Party’s historic Contract with America, the GOP’s 1994 election strategy that stripped Congress of Democratic control for the first time since the early 1950s. Wicker became the first Republican to represent the 1st District in more than a century.
Gov. Haley Barbour, then head of the Republican National Committee, played a significant role in crafting the strategy that kept Congress under GOP control until the 2006 midterm elections.
So it was politically appropriate that Barbour appointed Wicker to fill the remaining term of Sen. Trent Lott, who retired last December.
Wicker faces former governor Ronnie Musgrove in a race that most polls show is decidedly close.
One group that supported Wicker when he served in the U.S. House is the Mississippi Manufacturers Association (MMA).
MMA president and CEO Jay Moon said his organization rates Mississippi’s congressional delegation every two years, and Wicker has consistently received a high rating.
“Roger has, since he was in the House, and now that he’s in the Senate, has been a very strong supporter of the manufacturing contingent,” Moon said.
During his 13 years in Congress, Wicker public-private partnerships that would spur economic development in rural areas, which make up a large portion of the 1st District. Rural areas usually depend on manufacturing plants as their primary economic drivers. The furniture markets in and around Tupelo have long been the largest employees in the region.
“Manufacturing is very important in this state,” Moon said. “It contributes to a high number of direct jobs and a high number of indirect jobs, with supplier spin-offs and other related businesses. Anybody that supports that is somebody we have to support and thank.”
Since the turn of the century, the manufacturing job-sector has experienced the largest decline, with most of those jobs going overseas. Buildings that once produced goods now sit empty in rural industrial parks in places like Booneville and Pontotoc.
Moon insists that is not because Wicker did not do all he could to prop up the state’s manufacturers.
“And there’s an incremental effect when those plants get into trouble,” he said. “Plants slow production, which mean fewer products are made and sold, which mean fewer people have jobs. It really backs up and can devastate a small community.
“Sometimes people in small towns can take for granted a plant that’s been there for a long time, because their parents worked at it, their grandparents worked at it. When it closes or starts to experience job losses, people really notice. We think Roger has done all that he can to prevent that.”
Ron Aldridge, of the Mississippi chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB), says his organization is supporting Wicker because of his strong stance against “card check,” which would eliminate the secret ballot method currently used to determine if employees unionize. Card check would require employees to simply sign a card authorizing union representation.
“(Card check) would be devastating to small businesses,” Aldridge said.
Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at clay.chandler@ msbusiness.com .