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BOBBY HARRISON: Wicker’s 2008 Senate race also had sharp ads

Bobby Harrison

Bobby Harrison

In the midst of what was thought to be a close election for the U.S. Senate in 2008, Republican Roger Wicker ran radio ads courting the votes of black Mississippians because his opponent, Ronnie Musgrove, was perceived by some as being lukewarm in support of fellow Democrat Barack Obama for president.

Of course, what was not told during the radio ads was that Wicker, a former U.S. House member from Tupelo, had spent the entire campaign opposing Obama and trying to tie Musgrove, a former governor, to Obama. Wicker and his campaign and supporters knew that Obama, an African-American, was not popular with most white Mississippians, who are a large majority in the state.

Wicker’s ads were targeted to a specific demographic and told, at best, half the story.

The same campaign, Wicker or at least his supporters, ran ads criticizing Musgrove for “trying to change our flag.” Musgrove, along with most other statewide officials, endorsed a new flag in 2002 to replace the state flag, which some viewed as racist because the Confederate battle emblem is part of the design.

The new flag was overwhelmingly rejected by voters.

Wicker brought up the flag in 2008 even though the issue of a new flag was long dead and the design of the Mississippi flag has nothing to do with what a U.S. senator’s duties and responsibilities entail.

Obviously, Wicker and his supporters were trying to court a different demographic with those ads.

I make these points not to cast any judgment on the Roger Wicker campaign of 2008, but to point out that it is not unusual for candidates to target voters. And, it shouldn’t be a surprise that candidates run ads that in the eyes of their opponents tell only half the story – at best.

In the aftermath of the just completed bare-knuckled U.S. Senate Republican primary runoff, losing candidate Chris McDaniel and his supports have expressed dismay with ads run on black radio stations by incumbent Thad Cochran, who barring a long-shot successful challenge by McDaniel, is the winner of the primary by roughly 2 percentage points.

Cochran ran ads on black radio stations saying McDaniel would be an obstructionist and make things difficult for Obama. The ads also said a McDaniel victory would put social welfare programs, such as Food Stamps, in jeopardy.

Now, true McDaniel could not do those things by himself. But he has campaigned on reducing federal spending, perhaps including social welfare programs. And, heck, if there has been one central theme to the McDaniel campaign it has been that he would oppose Obama. He repeatedly asked enthusiastic audiences during the long campaign to name one fight Cochran has led against Obama. McDaniel then added, if elected, he would lead those fights.

Granted, it is unusual for a Republican in Mississippi to target the black community – especially in a primary.

But to any extent that Cochran was successful in garnering black votes it was less because of his actions, but rather because of Chris McDaniel’s words. It was the same words that got McDaniel a lot of support from other Mississippi voters.

Did Cochran tell the whole truth in those ads? In the eyes of McDaniel and his supporters, definitely not. But Cochran might ask if all the McDaniel ads told the whole truth.

In politics …


» Bobby Harrison has been covering Mississippi politics for more than 20 years. Contact him at (601) 946-9931 or bobby.harrison@journalinc.com .


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