By BRIAN PERRY
Republicans need a net gain of four seats to take control of the United States Senate. Such a victory would return Mississippi’s senior Senator Thad Cochran to the position of Chairman of Senate Appropriations.
It doesn’t seem likely this year.
Republicans are hopeful to take Democratic seats in Montana, North Dakota and Nebraska. But following the retirement of Maine Republican Olympia Snowe, the GOP appears likely to lose that seat; the defeat of Republican Senator Richard Lugar in the primary to the Tea Party supported Richard Mourdock has turned Indiana into a toss-up; the for sure defeat of Missouri Democrat incumbent Claire McCaskill evaporated with Republican nominee Todd Akin’s remarks about rape; and incumbent Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown slightly trails his challenger in the polls and fundraising.
Republicans don’t anticipate Democrats sweeping all those races, but the GOP goal of Senate control has become much more challenging and requires wins for candidates like George Allen in Virginia, Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin, Linda McMahon in Connecticut, or Connie Mack in Florida to overcome the Democratic majority.
Safe Republican seats include Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Wyoming and Mississippi.
In Mississippi, U.S. Senator Roger Wicker faces minor competition in his campaign for his first full term. Gov. Haley Barbour appointed Wicker to the Senate in December of 2007 after the resignation of then Senator Trent Lott. Wicker had served 13 years in the U.S. House of Representatives following his election during the 1994 “Republican Revolution” and, prior to that, eight years in the Mississippi Senate. Wicker previously served on active duty in the U.S. Air Force and retired from the Air Force Reserve in 2004 with the rank of lieutenant colonel.
In 2008, Wicker faced former Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove in a special election for the remainder of Lott’s term. Musgrove and Wicker had been roommates and desk mates when both served in the state Senate, but that did not prevent an aggressive campaign by both candidates. Musgrove had run statewide three times previously and won two of those races providing him statewide recognition. Wicker’s election experience had been confined to Northeast Mississippi.
Wicker’s campaign spent about $4 million on television in 2008 and hit mailboxes with 3.1 million mail pieces. The Wicker campaign outspent Musgrove $6.2 million to $2.7 million, but when party support is figured in, the Democrats outspent the GOP. In addition to Musgrove’s own campaign efforts, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) poured more than $6 million onto Mississippi television – rivaling Musgrove’s entire reelection budget as the incumbent governor in 2003. The DSCC even bought advertising in the Baton Rouge, La. market to reach Southwest Mississippi voters — an unprecedented buy in Mississippi politics. All told, according to the Campaign Finance Institute, Wicker and Republicans spent about $9.9 million while Musgrove and Democrats spent $10.5 million.
In the perfect year for Democrats — a weakened Republican brand; the hope of Barack Obama; massive turnout by traditionally Democratic voting African Americans; a former governor as their candidate; and outspending their opponent – Wicker still achieved a ten-point victory with a margin of 117,000 votes.
So now, four years later again in a presidential election year with a less popular incumbent President Obama on the ballot, it is little wonder that Democrats did not recruit a major candidate to oppose Wicker.
Wicker’s Democratic challenger is Al Gore. No, not Albert Arnold Gore Jr., the former Vice President and U.S. Senator from Tennessee — Mississippi’s Gore is the 82-year-old, cigar chewing, retired minister and Vietnam veteran Albert Nottly Gore Jr. of Starkville. He claims to be a distant cousin to the former Vice President as well as to author Gore Vidal. Gore told the Mississippi League of Women Voters he wants to decrease subsidies to reduce the debt, focus energy independence on solar and wind power, reduce military spending and focus more on nation building, and provide citizenship to illegal immigrants to use their working dollars to fix Social Security. He is self-funding his campaign and has not filed any federal campaign finance reports.
Also on the ballot is the Constitution Party’s Thomas Cramer, a former Navy combat veteran retired from Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula. Cramer, 68, is active in the South Mississippi Tea Party. Unlike Gore, he opposes nation building. He told the League of Women Voters, “I currently have a list of 55 Federal Agencies that are interfering in people’s lives and impeding economic growth that if eliminated will not only decrease deficit spending but increase revenue. We must first balance the budget by eliminating deficit spending then we can work on reducing the debt.”
The Reform Party’s perennial candidate Shawn O’Hara also appears on the ballot.
Wicker has been campaigning and has not taken the election for granted, but clearly his election this year will be easier and less costly than 2008.
Brian Perry is a partner with Capstone Public Affairs, LLC. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org  or @CapstonePerry on Twitter.