Republicans hope to reclaim two Southern governors' offices on Tuesday, thanks to prominent Republicans helping out in Mississippi and a scandal-plagued Democratic governor departing in Kentucky.
The most expensive gubernatorial race in Mississippi history is a close battle between incumbent Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and former Republican National Committee chairman Haley Barbour. The most recent poll taken for the Associated Press shows Barbour with a 50 to 45 percent lead. As of last week, Barbour had raised $10.6 million compared to Musgrove's $8.5 million.
Though the polls show Barbour slightly ahead, there's concern that he might not receive 50 percent of the vote, since there are three third-party candidates running as well. If no candidate reaches that threshold, the state constitution requires the state House, where Democrats hold an 81-38 edge over the GOP, to decide the election.
However, it would be the newly elected House that makes the decision next January. If, as expected, the Democrats hold onto their large majority, and Musgrove gets more votes than Barbour, then Musgrove should be fine. If Barbour receives more votes and the election is thrown into the legislature, even Democrats aren't sure how things would turn out.
On the campaign trail, Barbour has enlisted the help of high-profile Republicans including former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Oklahoma U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts, North Carolina Sen. Elizabeth Dole and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Vice President Dick Cheney campaigned for Barbour last Monday and President Bush flew in for two events on Saturday.
"There is no doubt in my mind he is going to be a great governor of this big state," Mr. Bush said at a rally in Gulfport.
Meantime, with Mississippi leaning Republican, Musgrove has avoided using the word "Democrat" to describe himself and hasn't had any prominent national Dems campaign for him. In fact, nowhere on his campaign Web site's home page or his in his biography does he mention he's a Democrat. And, interestingly, he has two sections on his campaign site titled "Conservative Mississippian" and "Fiscal Conservative."
Musgrove is hoping to fend off Barbour by emphasizing the opening of the state's first automobile factory, a Nissan plant that opened earlier this year, and by touting his success in getting the largest pay raise for teachers in state history. In addition, Musgrove received a major boost to his conservative credentials by receiving the endorsement of the National Rifle Association.
As the Mississippi race looks like it may go down to the wire, Kentucky is a different story - and not a good one for the Democrats, mainly due to the actions of outgoing Democratic Gov. Paul Patton.
Patton admitted having an affair with a woman who later accused him of turning state regulators against her and her nursing home. Now, Republican U.S. Rep. Ernie Fletcher has a good shot at getting the governor's office back for the GOP for the first time since 1971.
The bottom line in the Kentucky race is Patton's scandal, with the Republican Governors Association even running ads connecting Democratic candidate Ben Chandler to Patton.
The ad shows Chandler and Patton next to each other and says, "If you like Patton's record on ethics, you'll love Ben Chandler's." The ad goes on to criticize Chandler's campaign fund-raising methods. And another ad talks about the "insiders in Frankfort," who have "controlled" the state since 1971. When the word "corruption" comes up, a shot of Patton is shown.
Fletcher was also the beneficiary of national GOP support this past weekend as President Bush made two campaign stops with him on Saturday.
By Steve Chaggaris