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Red Mississippi could go for blue in Senate race

  • Story Highlights
  • GOP-leaning state could vote in a Democrat for U.S. Senate
  • Race pits GOP Sen. Roger Wicker against ex-Gov. Ronnie Musgrove
  • Mississippi has not sent a Democrat to the U.S. Senate in 26 years
  • Republican Senatorial Committee spends nearly $2 million to run ads
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By Emily Sherman
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(CNN) -- In a normal election, the possibility of traditionally red Mississippi voting blue is slim.

But with an unpopular president, a broken economy and an African-American at the top of the Democratic ticket, the prospect is high for Democrats to pick up in November.

Mississippi has not sent a Democrat to the U.S. Senate in 26 years and has voted Republican in eight of the last nine presidential elections.

In 2000 and 2004, the state overwhelmingly supported George W. Bush by a nearly 60 percent margin.

Despite some polling showing Republican Sen. Roger Wicker with a comfortable lead over former Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, both campaigns agree the race is going to come down to every last vote.

"We have to run the race based on what we know," said Musgrove campaign spokesman Adam Bozzi. "What we know is that Mississippi [voters] in every region across the state are tired of the bad economy, tired of unemployment, and tired of the direction that Washington is headed in."

Wicker campaign spokesman Ryan Annison said campaigners are confident their candidate will win.

"We have a strong campaign," Annison said. "Our fundraising has powered through all the way to the end."

"I think John McCain is going to win Mississippi and Roger Wicker as well," Annison added.

Wicker, who has never run in a statewide race, was appointed by GOP Gov. Haley Barbour as an interim senator after former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott resigned in December 2007.

Both candidates, who were former roommates during their time in the state Senate, are competing in a special election in hopes of finishing the remaining four years of Lott's term.

Stu Rothenberg, of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report -- which tracks House and Senate races -- says a combination of factors is putting Mississippi in play, but the outcome is dependent on who votes.

"There is all this concern that the African-American vote will be disproportionate, largely changing the nature of the electorate," Rothenberg said. "Where this race stands is somewhere in between the single digits and even."

"It's clear that nobody in either side of the aisle is taking this race for granted," Rothenberg added.

Complicating things even more is the fact that Mississippi state law does not allow Democratic or Republican party affiliation on special election ballots -- which is potentially damaging for both parties. Some say that means the GOP may not benefit from high turnout for McCain; Democrats may not benefit from potentially record African-American turnout.

So, it's no wonder that Democrats and Republicans are going full-force in the state.

According to Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Matt Miller, the party has spent nearly $6.4 million in Mississippi as of October 24.

"I think we have an excellent chance there," Miller said. "Musgrove has been running neck-and-neck the entire race [and] Wicker has never been able to solidify his position as an incumbent."

The latest findings from TNS Media Intelligence/CMAG, which specializes in advertising tracking, shows the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has run ads more than 15,000 times -- and almost 1,000 times for Musgrove alone since August.

Although Republican's haven't shelled out as much as the Democrats, it's clear they are not looking at the race as a shoo-in either.

TNS Media Intelligence/CMAG shows the National Republican Senatorial Committee spent nearly $2 million to run ads just over 6,000 times in the state.

"I feel good with where we are," Annison said. "This is certainly going to be a tough race and we're ready for the battle."

Musgrove and Wicker may not be as close as they were when they lived together, but their campaigns can agree on one thing -- voter turnout will likely be higher than ever.

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