Byline: Stephen Dinan, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
JACKSON, Miss. - Republican Haley Barbour seemed likely this morning to unseat Mississippi Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove - part of what Republicans hoped would be a clean sweep of the 2003 gubernatorial elections.
With 72 percent of the precincts reporting, Mr. Barbour had 325,233 votes, or 52 percent of the total, and Mr. Musgrove had 290,754 votes, or 46 percent. Electoral observers described the turnout as very heavy for a state race in a nonpresidential year.
In last night's other gubernatorial election, in Kentucky, Republican U.S. Rep. Ernie Fletcher defeated state Attorney General Ben Chandler. With all precincts reporting, Mr. Fletcher won by 55 percent to 45 percent and will replace outgoing Democratic Gov. Paul E. Patton, who was term-limited.
However, the Mississippi race was sufficiently close that neither candidate had claimed victory or admitted defeat early this morning.
Jackson TV stations were reporting that Mr. Musgrove had left the campaign headquarters for his home - a sign that no result was expected until later today.
Mississippi requires a gubernatorial candidate to get both more than 50 percent of the overall vote and to have won in more than half of the 122 districts in the state House, similar to the electoral votes in a national election.
Still, a former state governor said Mr. Barbour's margin appeared large enough to avoid having the Democrat-led state House decide the outcome.
"It doesn't look like we're risking going into the House again," said former Gov. Kirk Fordice, a Republican.
Both men ran as conservative, pro-life, gun-rights supporters who won't raise taxes. Mr. Musgrove, in recent ads, called himself "conservative" and "independent," and never identified himself as a Democrat.
He ran on a platform of continuing the education reforms and teacher-pay increases he won in his first term, while trying to paint Mr. Barbour as a Washington insider who had lost touch with his home state.
"I've said from the very beginning - this race is not about who can put the most ads on television or who's got the most political friends," Mr. Musgrove said during the weekend. "This race is about leadership, setting priorities and putting Mississippi first."
But Mr. Barbour, who kept a home in Mississippi and traveled there regularly even during his time as Republican National Committee chairman in the mid-1990s and more recently as a lobbyist, argued that Mississippi needed a leader with his experience.
He hoped to win based on a broad turnout of conservative voters worried about the state running a deficit.
"In Mississippi, a big turnout helps Republicans, it helps conservatives, it helps me," he said after voting yesterday morning at a firehouse in Yazoo City, his hometown. …