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 TIME on politics Congressional Quarterly Analysis CNN/AllPolitics CNN/AllPolitics - Analysis - 'Toons

Rothenberg One of the nation's top political analysts, Stuart Rothenberg, dissects politics at the congressional and statewide levels.

Mississippi's gov. race may determine bragging rights for Election '99

GOP should worry about possible Senate race with Sanders

By Stuart Rothenberg

February 25, 1999
Web posted at: 2:47 p.m. EST (1947 GMT)

WASHINGTON (February 25) -- Of the three gubernatorial contests taking place this year, just one, in Mississippi, seems to have all the drama of a heavyweight championship fight. And since the governors of Louisiana (Republican Mike Foster) and Kentucky (Democrat Paul Patton) are expected to win re-election, bragging rights for the entire election cycle rest with the outcome in Mississippi.

Since November's elections are the last contests before the 2000 presidential race, journalists across the country will be looking at the gubernatorial contests as indicators of the future.

Mississippi Gov. Kirk Fordice (R) is unable to run again, and a handful of Republican wannabes and one established Democrat are showing their early stuff.

The likely Democrat nominee is Lt. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove. Musgrove appeared to be headed for a primary battle against the state's attorney general, Mike Moore, when Moore abruptly announced that he wouldn't run for governor this year. Democratic insiders immediately began to speculate that the attorney general was in line for a job in the Clinton Administration.

Musgrove, a trial lawyer and former state senator, is expected to have only minor primary opposition, giving him the chance to husband his financial resources for the fall campaign. The lack of a strong challenge from the left also means that Musgrove can position himself as a fiscal conservative-social moderate for the general election.

The most prominent Republicans in the race are former congressman Mike Parker and former lieutenant governor Eddie Briggs.

Parker, who was elected to Congress as a Democrat but switched parties and retired last year as a Republican, has already kicked off his campaign. Briggs, who was elected in a three-way contest in 1991 lost four years later to Musgrove. That defeat, while Fordice was winning re-election to the state's top spot, has some Republicans worried.

State Rep. Charlie Williams and Crystal Springs Mayor Dan Gibson are also competing for the GOP nomination. Williams, a member of the House Ways & Means Committee, is close to the "gaming" community.

While Mississippi has become a Republican bastion in presidential contests, the state's Democratic tradition hasn't completely disappeared (three of the state's six congressional districts are held by Democrats), and that, combined with the uncertainties surrounding the GOP gubernatorial primary, makes the general election very much worth watching.

Vermont Senate

Independent Bernie Sanders is thinking about giving up his safe House seat and running for the U.S. Senate. And that should make Republicans feel very uneasy.

Sanders, the Brooklyn-born former mayor of Burlington and a self-identified socialist, was once regarded as a quirky gadfly and a perennial candidate. He ran independent bids for governor in 1972, 1976 and 1986, for the Senate in 1972 and 1974, and for the U.S. House in 1988. He finally won the state's lone, at-large House seat in 1990, and he seems to have solidified his hold on it.

While Sanders coasted to a 64 percent re-election win last time, he has usually drawn 50-58 percent of the vote. But he has shown he can raise money when he needs to. In his 1996 re-election contest against a GOP state senator, Sanders raised over $1 million, putting him in the same financial league with the state's two U.S. senators.

The congressman's voting record, not surprisingly, usually places him at the far left end of the House's ideological spectrum.

Sanders's populist rhetoric and agenda, and his uncompromising style have made him something of a folk hero, and he would be a very serious opponent for incumbent Sen. Jim Jeffords (R).

Jeffords, who served seven terms in the U.S. House before winning election to the Senate in 1988, is a very moderate Republican. Unlike many in his party, he voted against overriding the president's veto of the partial-birth abortion ban, against the GOP farm bill, against exempting small businesses from a higher minimum wage and for the Chemical Weapons Treaty.

But the senator's 50-41 percent victory in 1994 -- a strong Republican year elsewhere -- was shockingly close, especially since Jeffords had not fallen under the 65 percent mark since his very first House victory in 1974. The Republican, who was in the state Senate and served as Vermont attorney general before going to Washington, outspent his opponent by three-to-one in that race.

Like other Republicans in the Northeast, Jeffords is particularly vulnerable to any lasting damage from impeachment. And a strong opponent, whether Independent Sanders or a Democrat such as Gov. Howard Dean, would put this GOP seat very much at risk.


ROTHENBERG

Analysis: Lessons from Election 1999 (11-8-99)

The CNN/WMUR Town Hall Meetings at Dartmouth (10-29-99)

Spotlight on key races in 2000 (10-14-99)

The races for governor in 1999 (10-6-99)

The GOP presidential race after Ames (8-17-99)

Death of a congressman gives GOP chance to pick up House seat in California (8-6-99)

Democrats eye GOP House seats in North Carolina, Washington (7-21-99)

Best chance of unseating Democratic House incumbent may be in Connecticut (7-8-99)

Fierce Democratic Senate primaries expected in New Jersey and Rhode Island (6-22-99)

GOP has a chance to pick up Democratic Pennsylvania House seat (6-9-99)

Rep. Capps will have to fight for evenly split district (5-24-99)

Rep. Rogan undecided on re-electon bid, but GOP seat at risk either way (5-12-99)

Democrats look for candidate to beat Sen. Grams (4-29-99)

Hot race for Livingston's Louisiana House seat (4-13-99)

DeWine's re-election chances stronger with no declared Democratic challenger (3-29-99)

Mack's retirement means competitive race for Senate in Florida (3-16-99)

Mississippi's gov. race may determine bragging rights for Election '99 (2-25-99)

Impeachment votes could be a factor in some Senate races next year (2-12-99)

Open or closed? The politics of the final debate (2-8-99)

Challengers look to Chenoweth to honor term-limit pledge (1-26-99)

The state of Bill Clinton's State of the Union (1-20-99)

N.Y. Senate race could be a wild one (1-13-99)

More Rothenberg reports



MORE STORIES:

Thursday, February 25, 1999

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