JACKSON, Miss. – Gov. Ronnie Musgrove (search) easily defeated four little-known opponents in Tuesday's Democratic primary, and former Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour (search) pushed past his lone opponent in the GOP race.
Incomplete returns Tuesday night showed Musgrove with 74 percent of the vote in his race, and Barbour with 81 percent in the GOP primary. A simple majority is needed for nomination.
"There couldn't be a clearer choice in November's general election," Musgrove said. "As governor, I've focused on good schools and good jobs, better test scores and attracting new businesses like Nissan to our state.
"I've put Mississippi first. Haley Barbour has spent the last 20 years in Washington, D.C., putting special interests first."
Barbour was Republican national chairman from 1993 to 1997. As a lobbyist, his firm's clients have included Microsoft and defense giant Lockheed Martin (search). He said Musgrove has not faced up to Mississippi's problems, including a lagging economy and underfunded universities.
"There is a fundamental difference between my opponent and me," Barbour said. "For nearly four years this governor has had the opportunity to move Mississippi forward. He believes we've arrived. To hear him, we have no problems, everything is wonderful. I believe Mississippi has the potential to go farther, that we can do much better."
Barbour's only opponent was trial lawyer Mitch Tyner of Jackson, who had contributed to Musgrove's campaign in 1999. Musgrove faced four opponents who raised little money and made few campaign appearances.
The two candidates have raised more than $5 million each in their campaigns to lead one of the nation's poorest states, with Barbour, 55, a close ally of President Bush, receiving $1.5 million from the Republican Governors Association.
Musgrove, 47, is known for signing bills before dawn, and traveling to small towns to hand-deliver checks for projects such as sewer improvements. He has received $1 million from the Democratic Governors Association.
Musgrove and Barbour plan to ratchet up their well-financed campaigns after the primary to convince voters that only they can lift the state out of its economic doldrums.
Musgrove boasts that under his watch, Mississippi has approved its largest teacher pay-raise package and that the state landed a Nissan plant at a time when the economy was in a nationwide slump.
He also says Barbour has lobbied in Washington on behalf of the Mexican government to implement provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Musgrove said NAFTA has cost Mississippi 41,000 jobs, many in the beleaguered textile industry.
Barbour was RNC chairman when NAFTA was approved in 1993, but acknowledged his firm had a $35,000-a-month contract with the Mexican government starting in 2001 to lobby on several issues, including talks about Mexican trucks crossing into the United States.
Kentucky and Louisiana are the only other states with regularly scheduled governor's races this year. In California, Democratic Gov. Gray Davis faces a recall election in October, unless his supporters succeed in delaying the vote until March.
The state GOP is eager to seat a governor. Kirk Fordice, who served from 1992 to 2000, was the only Republican elected governor of Mississippi since Reconstruction.
In other balloting Tuesday, state Sen. Barbara Blackmon defeated two candidates to capture the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor. No black candidate had been nominated for either of the state's top two offices since Reconstruction.
A race between Blackmon and incumbent Amy Tuck, who ran unopposed for the GOP nomination, will mark the first time two women have vied for a high-profile Mississippi office.
Elsewhere, Tunica County Sheriff Jerry Ellington, who faces bribery and extortion charges, was trailing badly in a Democratic primary.