Sid Salter Column

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 24, 2008

Salter: Musgrove/Wicker ads reduce candidates to caricatures

After watching television for the last few months, I no longer recognize the politicians formerly known as Ronnie Musgrove and Roger Wicker.

The two men I knew each had strengths and weaknesses. Both of them had enjoyed successes and failures. They had been friends, close enough at one time back when they were in the state Senate together that they were roommates.

But after the Musgrove and Wicker campaigns – and particularly after the Democratic and Republican senatorial campaign committees and the third-party special interests got through running week after week of some of the sleaziest political ads ever seen in Mississippi – both of these candidates are virtually unrecognizable.

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As voters, what we are left with are virtual caricatures of two men who have spent most of their adult lives in some form of public service. Or more to the point, we are left with virtual caricatures that these commercials have left us about the candidates.

Those TV commercial caricatures include:

That Ronnie Musgrove supports gun control and is pro-abortion.

Sorry, not true. I’ve covered all four of Musgrove’s statewide campaigns and that’s a bogus charge. Musgrove is solidly pro-life and solidly pro-2nd Amendment rights and has consistently maintained those stances all of his public life.

That Roger Wicker voted to raise his own pay nine times.

Sorry, not true. The annual congressional cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, agreement was adopted before Wicker was elected to Congress in 1994. That 1989 agreement – formed for the very purpose of keeping pay raises from being used as political weapons in election years – calls for lawmakers to automatically get a pay hike unless Congress votes to block it.

Democratic and Republican leaders have cooperated for years to make the COLA a political non-event. Based on the bipartisan congressional COLA agreement, singling out any member from either party on the pay raise issue is a bogus allegation.

But these DSCC, RSCC and third-party ads — and honestly, a few of the ads that the Musgrove and Wicker campaigns have taken credit for  — have gone so negative that most voters across Mississippi would now be hard-pressed to tell you a thing positive about either candidate.

In the final two weeks, that’s not likely to change and the slime-fest of these campaign commercials isn’t likely to stop.

So for good or ill, voters will be left to make decisions in the race based on their perceptions of the candidates as bent by these commercials – or on their personal perceptions of the national political parties that Musgrove and Wicker represent.

The 2008 campaign looms as an impact year for Democrats. Democratic Sen. Barack Obama is poised in all national polls to take the White House for his party for the first time in eight years. With both houses of Congress expected to pick up Democratic members, Mississippi Democrats haven’t been this optimistic in two decades.

But in the Musgrove-Wicker Senate race, in a state that hasn’t elected a Democratic senator since 1982 and hasn’t elected a Democratic senator to an open seat since 1947, Musgrove walks a fine line between benefiting from strong identification with his national party or suffering from it.

But by surrendering a strong measure of control over their own campaigns to their respective parties’ senatorial campaign committees and third-party special interests in controlling the mass media messages, Musgrove and Wicker run the risk that both of their legitimate records get mired in the muck of ads that alienate voters.

We’ve heard reasons to vote against both candidates – but too few reasons why we should vote for either one of them.

(Contact Perspective Editor Sid Salter at (601) 961-7084 or e-mail Visit his blog at