Incumbents hold strong lead in collecting campaign cash

Published 10:12 pm Saturday, October 28, 2006

Democratic state Rep. Erik Fleming has made a 30-second ad in his effort to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, but he says he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to gather enough money to put the ad on television.

“On November 7th, I need your vote because I believe we deserve a better Mississippi. A better Mississippi means better wages, better access to education and health care and a better retirement system,” Fleming says in the ad, shot at the state Capitol in Jackson.

For now, the spot is showing only on Fleming’s campaign Web site — a reminder of the difficulties that challengers face in Mississippi this year as they try to compete against well funded incumbents for U.S. House and Senate.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The latest round of campaign finance reports show the incumbents have a hefty fundraising advantage leading into the final few days before the Nov. 7 election.

Lott is a former Senate majority leader who was first elected to the chamber in 1988 after serving 16 years in the U.S. House. His campaign had $1.4 million cash on hand as of Sept. 30, according to records posted to the Web site of the Federal Election Commission. His campaign had a beginning cash balance of $773,404. It has raised $2.3 million and spent $1.7 million.

For the same reporting period, records show Fleming — who is making his first run for statewide office — had $2,474 cash on hand. His campaign started this season with a zero balance. It has raised $26,961 and spent $24,507.

Fleming says his campaign is negotiating with national Democratic political action committees to try to get enough cash to buy TV time for his ad. He said he believes the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee “made a decision from Day One that they can’t do anything to change Mississippi.”

“I told them they were making a big mistake,” Fleming said in a phone interview as he drove a rented 2005 Hyundai Accent to Corinth, where he was to do a “meet and greet” event with north Mississippi Democrats on Friday night.

Lott, who lost his Pascagoula home in Hurricane Katrina last year, started airing a one-minute television ad in the past few days, talking about the resilience of Mississippi. The ad features images from around the state, from the coast to the Delta.

“There is a place where the handshake of a Delta farmer is as lasting and firm as the centuries-old cypress in the deepest Mississippi swamp, where a nation now looks upon and marvels at a miracle in the making and where people really do make a difference, and that difference is vast, it is sweeping, it is amazing,” the Lott ad says. “At no other time in history has this place, this amazing, resilient Mississippi been poised for such greatness and I want to be a part of that moment.”

Lott’s campaign also is airing radio spots and is advertising in local papers and using direct mail. It has not set up a Web site.

A spokesman said Lott was scheduled to attend a fundraising event Friday night in Oxford, where country singer Larry Gatlin, of the Gatlin Brothers, would perform.

Fleming said he will continue to travel the state “as long as we’ve got enough gas in the car to get where we’ve got to go,” despite the difficulties in getting money from his national party.

“They’re stuck in the strategy that got us beat in 2000,” Fleming said of national Democratic strategists. “I don’t think we ought to surrender a precinct, a county or a state.”