Mississippi contest seen as PR test ground for 2000

JACKSON, MS: A Mississippi gubernatorial election is shaping up as one of the year’s tightest races, and the candidate who makes best use of PR will almost certainly emerge triumphant.

JACKSON, MS: A Mississippi gubernatorial election is shaping up as one of the year’s tightest races, and the candidate who makes best use of PR will almost certainly emerge triumphant.

JACKSON, MS: A Mississippi gubernatorial election is shaping up as

one of the year’s tightest races, and the candidate who makes best use

of PR will almost certainly emerge triumphant.



Atlanta-based GOP pollster Whit Ayres last week emphasized that PR will

represent the balance of power in this and other competitive southern

statewide elections. ’Assuming equal resources, the winner will be the

one who controls the message and who targets it most effectively,’ he

said.



Mississippi, Louisiana and Kentucky are the only three states electing

governors this year, and national political parties - not to mention the

news media - are viewing these contests as test markets for gauging the

effectiveness of political PR appeals.



Lessons learned in these campaigns will be incorporated into key appeals

during the pivotal 2000 election.



In Mississippi, both candidates have been wielding the PR sabre in the

weeks leading up to the vote. Republican nominee Mike Parker released

the results from an August survey (commissioned by the Republican

Governors Association) that shows a dead heat, with Parker edging out

his Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, by two percentage

points. Parker was quick to spin the survey, however, to emphasize one

key finding: his 40% to 28% lead over Musgrove among a key swing group,

the 16% of the electorate which votes on a candidate-by-candidate basis

rather than strictly along party lines. Throughout much of the South,

such voters tend to be Democrats who are uncomfortable with the national

party but do not feel comfortable aligning themselves with the GOP.



Another poll, commissioned by an independent group, put Musgrove’s lead

in double figures.



Parker is a former US Representative who flip-flopped from his previous

Democratic affiliation and now holds the GOP line on most issues.

Musgrove has placed strong emphasis on education.



Both candidates have assembled extensive and well-respected PR

teams.



Brandon, MS-based Gene Clark is Parker’s media consultant, while

Musgrove has tapped the experience of media consultant Bill Carrick of

Carrick Morris Guma.



A Democratic victory in Mississippi after eight years of GOP rule would

be proof that the party can craft a winning message. ’It would be one

more sign that our party’s governors can combine a message of fiscal

responsibility with solid social values on issues such as healthcare and

education,’ said Democratic Governors Association’s communications

director John Hochstetter.



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