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Sunday, August 10, 2008

"A Down-to-the-Wire Donnybrook"

I have to admit, donnybrook sent me to the dictionary. For the record, it's an old Irish word for "brawl," which comes from the Dublin district where, from the time of King John, the annual Donnybrook fair was infamous for its raging riotous brawls. I love etymology.

Anyway, Lloyd Gray writes in today's Daily-Journal on the toss-up nature of the Senate race. Though interestingly, the whole piece is framed from the "what Wicker needs to do to win" perspective, with the secret being to mimic the make-up of Trent Lott's win back in 1988, by winning overwhelmingly in in the 1st District, which he represented for so many years:
This is a state that changes senators very rarely; we'd had only two transitions in the last 65 years before Gov. Haley Barbour appointed Wicker last Dec. 31 to replace Trent Lott.

The first transition came in 1978, when Thad Cochran won the seat vacated by Jim Eastland, who had served 35 years. The second was in 1988, when John Stennis - in office since 1947 - retired and Lott was elected to replace him.

So this one's historic. Even though Wicker is the incumbent by appointment, it's still essentially an open seat since the voters haven't yet spoken. Polls and pundits are calling the race a toss-up at this stage, which is a surprise, given the recent history of Republican dominance in statewide federal elections here.

But we all know this year is different for a variety of reasons, as already demonstrated in Democrat Travis Childers' upset win in the 1st Congressional District special election. The economy, the wars, health care and other national issues are part of the mix in Republican vulnerability. But just as there were unique local circumstances in Childers' win, so too are there in the Wicker-Musgrove battle.

In spite of more than seven months in the Senate, Wicker is still not as well known statewide as Musgrove, who held statewide office for eight years -four years as lieutenant governor and then another four as governor. We forget up here in the 1st District, where we've heard about and seen Wicker regularly for 14 years, that he's had minimal media and personal exposure in other parts of the state during all but a few months of that time...

...So what does Wicker need to do to win? A look at that 1988 race between Lott and Wayne Dowdy, both incumbent congressmen at the time, is instructive.

Lott, who represented the coastal 5th District, won the election by 74,000 votes over Dowdy, who represented the 4th District in southwest Mississippi. That entire margin of victory -plus an additional 4,000 votes - came in the counties of Lott's 5th District. He got 69 percent of the vote there, while Dowdy actually lost his own district.

The first thing Wicker has to do is carry the 1st District, and carry it big. In 1988, Lott and Dowdy basically split the rest of the state 50-50. But Lott had a higher national profile than Wicker, having been minority whip in the House and a visible member of Ronald Reagan's team, and Dowdy did not enjoy Musgrove's statewide name recognition. Additionally, there was no pull for black voters at the top of the ticket - Michael Dukakis, the Democratic nominee that year, didn't exactly excite them.

All these factors helped Lott outside his home base. Wicker will face more daunting challenges, so it is even more important that he get a huge 1st District margin - including a massive turnout in DeSoto County - as well as piling up votes in populous Republican strongholds like Rankin County scattered around the state.

Musgrove, conversely, must do well among his base of black voters in the Delta and Hinds County, winning overwhelmingly there and in the Mississippi River counties to the southwest.

If each does as he hopes in those places, the race could very well be decided on whether Wicker can build a sizable margin on the Gulf Coast. Which explains, at least in part, why he has made dozens of trips there since becoming a senator.

Someone could eventually run away with this thing, but don't count on it. This rare event has the look of a down-to-the-wire donnybrook.
I agree. It's going to be close. But this should serve as a message to all Mississippians hungry for change.

There is a lot of work to be done from now until the election to mobilize as many of your people for Musgrove as is possible. Particularly those of y'all up in the 1st CD. To flip the premise of Gray's column, if Wicker is denied an overwhelming vistory in his home district, he's pretty much toast.

So, North Mississippians: get to work.

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