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Politicos take pulpit at Hobnob

The Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum transformed Thursday morning from a showcase of the state’s agrarian heritage into a political pulpit.

Several candidates and state Democratic and Republican leaders made last-minute pleas to nearly 1,000 business folks assembled at the Mississippi Economic Council’s annual Hobnob Mississippi.

One hundred and twenty hours before polls opened, Secretary of State urged voters to be patient. “Lines are going to be long,” he said. “Please bear with us.”

The number of early voters could be a harbinger of what many election experts say will be a record turnout for Tuesday’s elections. In Mississippi alone, almost 200,000 people have registered to vote since January, according to Hosemann’s office.

Mississippi Democratic Party chairman and former state representative from Mooreville, Jamie Franks was blunt in his pitch for Democratic Presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama.

“After eight years under George Walker Bush, it’s time for a change,” Franks said, drawing a parallel between Bush’s foreign and economic policies to those of Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain.

Perhaps the biggest underdog in any Mississippi election, Democrat Erik Fleming, who is opposing long-time incumbent Thad Cochran for U.S. Senate, said economic development in Mississippi could never move full speed ahead unless the state can keep its college graduates within its borders.

“We are becoming American’s farm team,” Fleming said. “It is time for us in Mississippi to be a little selfish.”

Mississippi’s other Senate race shows tight poll numbers between Republican Roger Wicker and Democrat Ronnie Musgrove. The race has taken on a hostile tone over radio and television airwaves, and the two candidates did not stray from that theme at Hobnob.

Musgrove assailed Wicker for his votes to approve trade agreements with foreign countries.

“No more bad trade deals, no more money to China, no more tax breaks for big corporations that ship jobs overseas,” Musgrove said in reference to Wicker’s support over the years for deals like NAFTA. “Small business is the backbone of our economy, not multi-national corporations.”

Setting up Wicker’s appearance, state GOP Chairman Brad White compared Obama’s social policies to President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, aimed at eradicating poverty.

“We’re still paying the high cost of that,” White said.

After Cochran stayed above the fray in a brief speech, Wicker wasted little time in attacking the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which has poured $8 million of what Wicker labeled “left-wing money” into advertising that paints Wicker as a Washington insider who is out of touch with the average Mississippian.

“Why are (the people at the DSCC) doing this? The answer is not complicated,” Wicker said. “Because they know that in Roger Wicker you have a consistent Main Street Mississippi Conservative who has worked for job creation and economic development.”

While lines were drawn in the sand for statewide elections, Rep. Angela Cockerham, D-Magnolia, who was representing House Speaker Billy McCoy, turned the crowd’s attention to issues that will be waiting for the Mississippi Legislature when it convenes January 6.

“We must work to foster a stable business environment, and enact legislation that will attract and nurture commerce,” she said. She drew one of the day’s more robust ovations when she said that the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, the formula that determines the amount of funding each of the state’s school districts receives in a budget year, “absolutely must be fully funded.”

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

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