Former Republican National Committee chairman Haley Barbour captured the governorship Tuesday, pulling out victory in a hard fought race against Democratic incumbent Ronnie Musgrove.
"Marsha and I appreciate you, we salute you and for the next four years Marsha and I are going to work hard to live up to your confidence and trust in us,'' Barbour, with his wife by his side, told cheering supporters at midnight at a victory party at the Clarion Hotel in downtown Jackson.
With almost 90 percent of the state's precincts reporting, Barbour had 53 percent to Musgrove's 45 percent. People at Musgrove's party at Old Capitol Inn watched silently, some with tears in their eyes, as Barbour gave a televised address. Barbour said Musgrove called him and conceded the race after midnight.
"There has been no greater honor than serving the people of Mississippi as a public servant,'' Musgrove told supporters about 12:30 a.m. "I thank them.''
Some had said governor's races Tuesday in Mississippi and Kentucky could indicate President Bush's popularity headed into the 2004 federal elections. Bush campaigned Saturday for gubernatorial candidates in both states. Republican Ernie Fletcher won in Kentucky.
As RNC chairman, Barbour helped engineer the Republican takeover of the U.S. House and Senate in 1994. He becomes Mississippi's second Republican governor since Reconstruction. The GOP's Kirk Fordice served from 1992 to 2000.
Before Barbour's appearance at his victory party, people listened to a jazz band and watched campaign highlights on large screens, including footage of President Bush's campaign appearances Saturday in DeSoto County and Gulfport. Among the people at the party was a woman who used a red, white and blue basketball net for a wig.
State Rep. Clayton Smith, R-Brandon, said he was optimistic about having another Republican in the Governor's Mansion.
"Barbour has experience and he knows government in and above the state level. With his heart and mind in the governor's chair, Mississippi will go far,'' Smith said.
Shortly after 10 p.m., Musgrove made an appearance at his own campaign party at Old Capitol Inn near downtown Jackson but did not speak to reporters. People chanted, "Four more years,'' as he walked through the room shaking hands and hugging supporters. The governor posed for photos with relatives, including his son Jordan, 18, and daughter Carmen Rae, 16.
Heavy turnout was reported around the state on a day with blue skies and temperatures in the 80s. In some places, including areas of populous Hinds County, voters were still standing in line waiting to vote after 8 p.m. They were allowed to vote as long as they were at the precincts before 7 p.m.
John Bruce, a political science professor at the University of Mississippi, said though Musgrove and Barbour ran a tough campaign with ads criticizing each other, the two candidates took similar positions on many issues.
Bruce said he took statements about gun ownership, abortion and other issues off campaign Web sites and quizzed his students about which candidate had made the statements. He said many thought the statements came from Barbour - but all the positions came from Musgrove.
"They're both conservative,'' Bruce said. "They're almost identical on a lot of issues.''
Three lesser known candidates - the Green Party's Sherman Lee Dillon, the Constitution Party's John Thomas Cripps, and the Reform Party's Shawn O'Hara - also were on Tuesday's ballots for governor.
The Musgrove-Barbour race was the most expensive in Mississippi political history. Barbour raised $10.6 million and Musgrove raised $8.5 million, the campaigns said.
Musgrove, 47, served two terms in the state Senate and one as lieutenant governor before winning the closest governor's race in Mississippi history four years ago.
With two lesser known candidates on the 1999 ballots, neither Musgrove nor the Republican gubernatorial nominee, former U.S. Rep. Mike Parker, won either of the two requirements - a majority of the popular vote and a majority of the 122 House districts. Musgrove, however, led Parker by 8,342 votes.
The race was decided in the state House in January 2000. Representatives are not required to vote as their districts did, and Musgrove was elected 86-36 in the Democrat-controlled chamber.
Musgrove spent much of his term feuding with legislative leaders over how much money the state should spend. With the state economy in a slump, Musgrove said legislators were planning to spend more money than the state would collect.
He once vetoed all budget bills and the House and Senate overrode his vetoes. Months later, when revenues fell short of legislators' projections, Musgrove was forced to cut millions of dollars from the budget.
While campaigning for a second term, Musgrove often pointed to two achievements: Luring a Nissan plant to Mississippi with a $363 million incentive package and winning legislative approval for a multimillion dollar teacher pay raise plan.
Barbour, 56, was Republican National Committee chairman from 1993-1997. He is chairman and CEO of Barbour Griffith & Rogers, a top-ranked Washington lobbying firm whose client list includes defense giant Lockheed Martin, pharmaceutical company Bristol-Meyers Squibb and cigarette maker Brown and Williamson Tobacco.
Barbour was political director for President Reagan in the mid-1980s and was one of 10 people on George W. Bush's presidential exploratory committee in 1999.
A host of big-name Republicans traveled to Mississippi this year to campaign for Barbour. Among them were President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.