is not an issue
By By Terry Cassreino
assistant managing editor
Aug. 24, 2003
Former Gov. William Winter thought candidates were above making race an issue in Mississippi elections, that they wouldn't try to win support by drawing attention to an opponent's skin color.
Yet the longtime Democrat said he saw exactly that happen one day after Haley Barbour won the Republican nomination and Ronnie Musgrove won the Democratic nomination for governor.
That day, Barbour cast the election as a clear choice between a "conservative GOP" ticket of him and Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck and a "liberal Democratic" ticket of Musgrove and state Sen. Barbara Blackmon.
Barbour didn't have to go into detail to make his pitch clear for anyone willing to read between the lines. He deliberately linked Musgrove with Blackmon, the Democratic lieutenant governor nominee.
Blackmon, you see, is black. She also is a successful black attorney who lives in predominantly black Canton and who has been an aggressive, ambitious black state senator since 1992.
Barbour, the former Republican National Committee chairman and an expert political strategist, hasn't mentioned the "conservative GOP" ticket much, if at all, since his Aug. 6 comments.
Tuck, Musgrove and Blackmon also have distanced themselves from Barbour's comments.
One reason: In Mississippi, candidates for governor and lieutenant governor don't run as a "ticket." They instead run independent of each other; they win or lose based on their own abilities.
That's not to say Blackmon's campaign won't help Musgrove. Indeed, it likely will.
In order for Musgrove to win a second term, he must keep his base of white Democrats as well as attract strong black support. Blackmon's candidacy should energize black voters statewide on Nov. 4.
If that's not enough, Musgrove has another factor in his favor Gary Anderson, the state's former fiscal officer who is the Democratic nominee for treasurer. Anderson, by the way, also is black.
Barbour's campaign has said his comments about party tickets and his labeling Musgrove as a liberal were meant to point out differences on issues. Despite that, they still could alarm conservative voters.
Winter faced a similar scenario when he ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1967 against Ross Barnett and John Bell Williams. Winter was labeled a "Kennedy liberal" by his opponents.
Winter said he always considered himself "middle of the road" and not a "flaming liberal." Yet the terms liberal and conservative were used in 1967 just like they are today to alienate and inflame voters.
In a perfect world, Winter said, voters would consider a candidate's ability, experience and background. Given that, he believes Blackmon and Anderson are capable and qualified.
Should voters agree in November, he said, that would go a long way toward making a major political statement that Mississippi has, indeed, changed during the past 40 years.