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Musgrove can't afford to lose any support

By Staff
Terry R. Cassreino / assistant managing editor
August 3, 2003
PHILADELPHIA Clyde Coleman stood in the shade at the Neshoba County Fair, flashed a smile and then said without hesitation he supports Republican Haley Barbour for governor.
Four years ago, Coleman voted for Ronnie Musgrove the first time the Magee resident backed a Democrat for governor after supporting Republican Kirk Fordice during his two gubernatorial campaigns.
Coleman, however, said he hasn't been impressed with Musgrove and hasn't been swayed by a governor who repeatedly boasts about how he helped raise teacher pay and lure a Nissan auto plant to Canton.
Comments like that, however, may not make Musgrove feel good not as he prepares to enter the heart of the campaign season following Tuesday's party primaries in what could become a tight governor's race.
Tuesday primary
Musgrove and Barbour are favored to easily win their respective party primaries. Musgrove is up against four little-known Democrats, while Barbour meets Republican challenger Mitch Tyner.
After that, the November race begins. And with Musgrove packing the power of incumbency, it appears he has the early momentum heading into the general election.
But in order to win, Musgrove must increase his base of support and can't afford to lose people who backed him for governor in 1999. That race was so close that neither Musgrove nor Republican Mike Parker received more than 50 percent of the vote to automatically win.
With Musgrove snagging 49.6 percent of the vote and Parker taking 48.5 percent, the governor's race was thrown to the state House of Representatives whose members cast the deciding ballots in January 2000.
Keep in mind that the 1999 general election offered voters a four-man field. Besides Musgrove and Parker, Reform Party candidate Jerry L. Ladner and independent Helen P. Perkins also were on the ballot.
This year, the possibility remains for a repeat.
Besides Musgrove and Barbour, the general election ballot will feature Constitution Party candidate John Thomas Cripps, Reform Party candidate Shawn O'Hara and Green Party candidate Sherman Lee Dillon.
Tough race
No one gives Cripps, O'Hara or Dillon a chance at winning. That won't happen. But with five people on the ballot and if, indeed, Coleman is just one of many former Musgrove supporters Musgrove could be in for a fight.
The Barbour-Musgrove race already has turned mean.
Musgrove has taken every opportunity to criticize Barbour for being out-of-touch with Mississippi while working in Washington. Barbour, meanwhile, warned Musgrove at the fair that he'll be in for a fight.
Barbour supporters made that perfectly clear Thursday when Musgrove was set to speak at the fair.
Barbour supporters, wearing white campaign T-shirts and holding helium-filled campaign balloons, camped out at Founders Square more than hour before Musgrove's speech.
About 10 college-age Barbour supporters held signs saying "Ronnie Ain't Right" and "Ronnie Loves Hillary." A few adults cooled themselves with hand-held fans featuring Musgrove's photo on one side and Bill Clinton on the other.
Coleman wasn't among them.
Coleman was at the fair the day before, mainly to take his wife to the 114th annual event for the first time so she could experience what's billed as "Mississippi's Giant Houseparty." Plus, he wanted to hear Barbour speak.