Two nonpartisan national political observers with solid track records as students of Mississippi politics say that the Mississippi special election to choose a permanent successor to former U.S. Sen. Trent Lott is now a legitimate horse race.
Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the Rothenberg Political Report and longtime columnist for Roll Call magazine, said on May 20 that the race could no longer be considered "safe for Republicans."
Rothenberg's call came after the release of a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee poll showed former Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove with a 48 percent to 40 percent lead over Republican interim U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker in the race.
"Musgrove benefits from higher name identification, and the race will be close, but the initial numbers are good for the Democrat," Rothenberg said. The DSCC poll showed Musgrove with significantly higher name recognition than Wicker, but that Musgrove had over twice the "unfavorable" rating than did Wicker.
But the same poll showed that in the 1st Congressional District, which Wicker represented before taking the Senate appointment, Wicker leads Musgrove 48 percent to 43 percent. Democrat Travis Childers just defeated Republican Greg Davis in a special election to fill Wicker's seat
"Like the 1st District race, party labels will not appear on the ballot beside Wicker and Musgrove's name, because the November race is technically a special election to fill Republican Trent Lott's seat," Rothenberg wrote. "Even though he (Musgrove) has the lead today, the race is still a difficult one for Musgrove, since the state leans Republican in federal races. But it can no longer be considered safe for the Republicans."
Mississippi Democrats still basking in the glow of Childers' win over Davis believe Musgrove can continue the party's reversal of fortunes in congressional politics. Many Democrats also believe that if Sen. Barack Obama is indeed the Democratic presidential nominee, Musgrove's chances to defeat Wicker are greatly enhanced.
Republicans point to Obama's recent blowout losses in Kentucky and West Virginia as evidence that Wicker can and will hold the seat.