Southern States' Governors' Races Heat Up

 

Voters in Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi elect new governors this fall. With the races well underway, analysts say the best battle is in Mississippi, where incumbent Gov. Ronnie Musgrove (D) is squaring off against political power broker Haley Barbour (R).

"That may be the closest and best barometer of 2003. It's the one I'm looking to," said Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political science professor.

Barbour, a Washington, D.C., lobbyist and former chair of the Republican National Committee, has been running hard for much of the year and has received financial and political help from friends in the nation's capital, including Vice President Dick Cheney.

Musgrove, on the other hand, has been slow to run ads and hit the campaign trail. But with $3.6 million in the bank, he has more campaign cash than Barbour, who has $1.9 million available, according to reports filed with the Secretary of State's office.

"At this point, you'd say the Musgrove campaign is in a tortoise mode and Barbour is the Energizer bunny," said Joseph Parker, a University of Southern Mississippi political science professor.

Parker, who's been watching Mississippi political campaigns for the past 28 years, said the dynamics of the race are likely to change soon.

"The thing about Musgrove is that (he) campaigns like 16 hours a day. He is a classic, runs on hyper-pills or something. I think he can get up at 3 a.m. and campaign until midnight, and get up and do the same thing the next day," Parker said.

Barbour is running on a platform of fiscal responsibility and is dead-set against tax increases.

"If you raise taxes, you'll be back raising taxes, you'll be back raising taxes. It's feeding the beast," Barbour told The Clarion-Ledger (Jackson) editorial board.

But as Barbour attacks Musgrove's fiscal stewardship of the state, his lobbying work in the nation's capital on behalf of tobacco companies, pharmaceuticals and foreign governments, may provide Musgrove with openings for counterattack.

"It's a natural thing that Musgrove is going to point his cannons squarely at Barbour and say that he is a Washington insider who chose to leave the state to make his fortune and while he's been successful in Washington, that should not mean he should be able to come back home and 'buy' the governor's race," Marty Wiseman, director of the Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University, told Stateline.org.

Barbour and Musgrove face less well-known primary opponents Aug. 5. The general election is Nov. 4.

In the Kentucky governor's race, the field narrowed to two major party candidates May 20 when U.S. Rep. Ernie Fletcher (R) and state Attorney General Ben Chandler (D) won their respective primaries.

Chandler has been hobbled in the general election campaign by a perceived connection to scandal-plagued Gov. Paul Patton (D). A formerly popular leader, Patton's reputation has been hurt by his disclosure of an extra-marital affair and by his preemptive pardon of four political supporters charged with breaking election laws during his 1995 campaign.

"Chandler has had an incredible streak of bad luck. It's just amazing. Chandler is no friend of Patton but voters don't make these kinds of distinctions," Sabato said. He said Chandler's bad fortune could hand the Kentucky governors' mansion to a Republican for the first time since 1967.

A recent Associated Press report shows that Fletcher, with $850,000 in the bank, has raised seven times more money than Chandler, who has only $117,200 on hand.

Voters will get their say Nov. 4.

The electoral situation in Louisiana, where incumbent Gov. Mike Foster (R) is barred by law from seeking a third term, is the least clear of the three. That's hardly unusual, analysts say, because of Louisiana's unique open primary system.

This year, it features four Republican and five Democratic candidates battling each other in a free-for-all election Oct. 4. If anyone wins more than 50 percent of the vote, a rare occurrence, he or she will be crowned the state's next governor. Otherwise, the top two finishers, regardless of party, will compete in a runoff Nov. 15.

Many analysts think this year's open primary could even could result in two Democrats and no Republicans competing in the November runoff.

"That's been the talk from the beginning because the Democrats are better known. Two of them are statewide elected officials. And I think Republicans are quite concerned that a Republican get in the runoff. That's why several Republicans dropped out. . . .It really does depend on how well Republicans are able to concentrate on one candidate," said Wayne Parent, political science professor at Louisiana State University.

That one candidate may be Bobby Jindal, the former state health secretary who has been the leading Republican in early polls. But doubts remain about the ability of Jindal, a 31-year-old Indian American who left the Bush administration to run for governor, to draw enough support from rural whites to qualify for the runoff.

"Some people think Jindal will never really crack into the hard-core rural conservative white, the so-called Bubba voter. There's still a scramble for that kind of vote, which is a key vote in Louisiana," said John Maginnis, editor of LApolitics.com, a web site that gives an insider's perspective on Louisiana politics.

The other Republican candidates are: Public Service Commissioner Jay Blossman, state Rep. Hunt Downer and former Legislative Auditor Dan Kyle. The Democrats include: Lt. Gov. Kathleen Blanco, former Senate President Randy Ewing, state Attorney General Richard Ieyoub, former U.S. Rep. Claude "Buddy" Leach and businessman Mike Stagg.

Maginnis said the big policy issue so far has been economic development, a perceived weakness of the outgoing governor.

"You always kind of play off the weakness of the former governor. Foster was not known for being aggressive about economic development. So every candidate is promising travel the nation, eat with chopsticks, court multinationals, do whatever they can to bring projects to Louisiana," he said.

 
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