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Barbour, Musgrove take jabs in debate

By Staff
DEBATE Incumbent Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, left, responds to a question during a gubernatorial debate in McComas Hall auditorium Monday night on the Mississippi State University campus. Republican gubernatorial challenger Haley Barbour makes a point during the debate at MSU. Barbour faces Musgrove in the Nov. 4 general election. Photos by Paula Merritt/The Meridian Star
By Terry R. Cassreino / assistant managing editor
Oct. 7, 2003
STARKVILLE After weeks of sniping in public appearances and television ads, Democrat Ronnie Musgrove and Republican Haley Barbour had a chance at a Monday night debate to compliment each other.
But even that didn't entirely work. While the two gubernatorial candidates praised their opponents' positive qualities, they also questioned their ability to lead the state as governor.
Musgrove's comments were explicit.
Barbour offered more subtle criticism.
Heated election
Musgrove and Barbour, locked in an increasingly contentious race for governor, met on the Mississippi State University campus in the second of four formal gubernatorial debates. The two will debate again Oct. 14 at Delta State University and Oct. 20 at WLOX-TV in Biloxi.
Musgrove meets Barbour, the former Republican National Committee chairman, and three third-party candidates in the Nov. 4 general election. At stake is the state's top elected office.
A standing-room-only crowd of about 500 people crammed the McComas Hall auditorium at MSU to watch the debate, which was aired live or on a tape-delayed basis across the state, including on WMDN-TV in Meridian.
Musgrove and Barbour supporters began arriving at McComas more than hour before the 7 p.m. debate. Outside, the MSU College Republicans hosted a barbecue for Barbour and students.
Musgrove backers
Musgrove supporters weren't as visible on campus. A small group of backers stood in a parking lot across from McComas next to a sign that took pointed jabs at Barbour's finances and support for free trade.
The hour-long debate itself covered little new ground. Musgrove boasted about how he helped create 56,000 new jobs in Mississippi since taking office in January 2000. Official statistics show that Mississippi has actually experienced a net loss of jobs during Musgrove's term.
The governor also continued to paint Barbour as a political outsider more comfortable in Washington. And Musgrove touted his education successes, including improved test scores and teacher pay raises.
Musgrove also took a jab at "Haley's Plan," Barbour's list of detailed proposals he said he plans to tackle if elected. Musgrove said more than half of the proposals already are in place under his leadership.
Barbour's take
Barbour, though, stood by his list of proposals. In a news conference after the debate, Barbour introduced West Lauderdale High School teacher Jill Williams, who used his proposals in her class.
Williams asked her ninth-grade students in her Mississippi Studies class to compare the plans of Musgrove and Barbour by visiting their Web sites. She said the only plan they found was Barbour's.
During the debate, Barbour touched on familiar issues that included the state's poor financial condition, inadequate higher education funding and inadequate drug enforcement funding.
All, he said, were in the worst condition in years including funding for drug enforcement that now stands below what it was during the last year of former Republican Gov. Kirk Fordice's term.
Mississippi Governor
Here is a look at the 2003 governor's race.
The candidates: Incumbent Democrat Ronnie Musgrove meets Republican Haley Barbour and three third-party candidates in the Nov. 4 general election.
The job: The governor is Mississippi's chief executive; he proposes an annual state budget and signs or vetoes legislative proposals.
The pay: The governor earns $122,160 a year beginning in January; if Musgrove wins, he has the option of taking the current salary of $101,800.