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Roberts blames
everyone for loss

By Staff
Terry R. Cassreino / assistant managing editor
August 10, 2003
One day after losing the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor, former state Supreme Court Justice Jim Roberts blamed his defeat on the strong financial resources of chief opponent Barbara Blackmon.
Roberts also blamed his loss on Gov. Ronnie Musgrove. And incumbent Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck. And elements of the Democratic and Republican parties. And an unnamed candidate for state office. And a Jackson newspaper.
But no where in the statement did Roberts blame the real reason: A poorly organized campaign that failed to generate enough statewide interest in him to win the party nomination for such a high-profile office.
With all precincts reporting statewide, Blackmon came in first Tuesday with 277,614 votes, or 54 percent; Roberts was second with 190,123, or 35 percent; and Troy Brown, a Greenwood resident, was last with 47,126, or 9 percent.
Embarrassing loss
Simply put: It was an embarrassing political defeat for Roberts, his second straight loss in a Democratic primary for state office. Roberts' first came in 1999, when he fell to Musgrove in the Democratic primary for governor.
This year, however, Roberts' loss was an especially stinging political defeat. This time, Roberts lost to a state senator from Canton who was waging her first race for statewide office.
And here's the kicker: Blackmon has not yet fully defined herself or her campaign. She often talks in generalities and has yet to fully explain to voters why they should choose her rather than Tuck, her GOP opponent in November.
Yet Blackmon campaigns well one-on-one. Despite a tendency to sometimes appear gruff and abrasive while speaking in public, Blackmon remains friendly, personable and easy to approach in private.
Roberts, however, is more of a throwback to the old-time, populist Democratic candidates of the 1970s and early 1980s. His country charm and self-deprecating humor often can win a crowd in minutes.
But Roberts's campaign never took off.
He didn't clearly state his goals or plans as lieutenant governor. And he waged a passive, unaggressive, virtually nonexistent campaign at least in East Central Mississippi.
When Roberts spoke at the Neshoba County Fair, the state's premier political event, his afternoon appearance lacked the crowds that usually attend the late-morning speeches by incumbent office-holders.
So when it came time to congratulate Blackmon and move on, Roberts couldn't resist taking a jab at what he perceived as the real reasons he lost.
He also left the door open for another stab at state politics.
Barbour's strategy
Republican Haley Barbour's strategy seemed obvious the day after he won the GOP nomination for governor: Paint the November general election as a classic battle of a conservative versus a liberal.
But Barbour took the scenario one critical step further. He cast the election in terms of a "conservative ticket," featuring himself and Tuck, against a "liberal ticket," featuring Musgrove and Blackmon.
That move is important for one reason Mississippi candidates traditionally don't run on party tickets. Candidates usually stand or fall by themselves based on their own strengths and weaknesses.
Barbour, however, is attempting to change that. And although it may be tough to label Musgrove a liberal, Barbour and fellow Republicans likely will find it much easier to pin the term on Blackmon.
While in the state Senate, Blackmon opposed civil justice reforms that placed limits on pain-and-suffering awards in lawsuits. And with Republicans keying on that as a major issue, Barbour's strategy could work.