US Senate race in Miss. intensifies

Published 1:33 pm Friday, October 17, 2008

Republican Roger Wicker’s latest campaign ad uses fake Village People and a person in a cow costume to lampoon Democratic fundraising efforts for a U.S. Senate race in Mississippi.

Democrat Ronnie Musgrove’s campaign calls the 30-second TV spot “a desperate political trick” that “lies” about Musgrove’s record.

Wicker and Musgrove — longtime friends who once served together in the state Legislature — are competing in a Nov. 4 special election to fill the final four years of a six-year term started by Republican Trent Lott, who retired last December to become a lobbyist.

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“Roger Wicker must think Mississippians are pretty dumb,” Musgrove campaign manager Tim Phillips said in a news release. “Ronnie Musgrove doesn’t have any contributions from any of the groups in Wicker’s ad.”

The ad, approved by Wicker and paid for by his campaign, started airing this week. It uses an actor to play a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee fundraiser who says: “Let’s go. Ronnie Musgrove has promised to support our liberal Democratic leadership.”

The actor takes money from a man with a briefcase full of cash, portraying the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League. He also takes money from people portraying the Human Rights Campaign PAC, “the largest gay rights group in the country” — one man is dressed as a cowboy and another in black leather in the style of the 1970s disco group, the Village People.

The ad ends with the costumed cow, representing the Mississippi Beef Processors LLC plant that opened and closed while Musgrove was governor.

Two executives of the company that designed and built the beef plant pleaded guilty this year to giving Musgrove an illegal $25,000 “gratuity” during his 2003 gubernatorial re-election campaign. Musgrove has said repeatedly that he had no direct oversight over the beef plant project.

Phillips said Musgrove has a long record of putting restrictions on abortion and of opposing marriage and adoption by same-sex couples. Musgrove served eight years in the state Senate before being elected lieutenant governor in 1995 and governor in 1999.

The Federal Election Commission Web site shows the Human Rights Campaign PAC and the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League have contributed to the DSCC, but neither group has contributed directly to Musgrove. The DSCC is running ads in several races around the country, including some spots that criticize Wicker.

“We just thought it would be in good fun to show Mississippians who’s paying for these ads,” Wicker campaign spokesman Ryan Annison said Wednesday.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee also is pumping money into the Mississippi race in hopes of holding onto the seat the GOP has held since Lott won it in 1988. Democrats are trying to strengthen their majority on Capitol Hill.

Political scientist Marty Wiseman said voters are becoming immune to tough campaign ads and Wicker’s commercial is an example of a candidate getting “more and more demonstrative in the message” to grab attention.

“That sounds like an ad, to me, of somebody who’s worried,” said Wiseman, director of the Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University.

Wicker served six years in the state Senate before being elected a north Mississippi U.S. House seat in 1994. Republican Gov. Haley Barbour — who unseated Musgrove in 2003 — chose Wicker to fill Lott’s Senate seat until the special election.