When you move beyond the facts, the law, and the lawsuits, a question remains regarding the ballot dispute of the special Senate election between Ronnie Musgrove and Roger Wicker.

Online political guru Alan Lange asks it over at YallPolitics.com: "Ronnie Musgrove chooses strange hill to die on. Why this fight? Why now?".

Conventional wisdom answers: ballot fatigue, voters losing interest as they move down the ballot and fail to vote in the race.

Ballot fatigue is nonpartisan and should equally affect voters for Musgrove and Wicker. But Democrats fear their voters will be too confused or to uninterested to vote for Musgrove at the end of the ballot.

While insulting to Democrats, their argument is not without merit. I don't mean that sarcastically. Rather "under voting" is a documented phenomenon: voters tend to turn out and vote for high profile races and fail to participate in races of which they have little knowledge.

However, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann makes a compelling argument that with electronic voting machines (in 79 of Mississippi's 82 counties), voters must choose not to vote in any given race three times before casting their ballot. As a consequence, there has been no significant voter fatigue in the 2004 or 2007 elections. Hosemann actually notes a spike upward on instance while moving down the ballot in 2007.

The United States Senate is not an obscure race and Musgrove and Wicker are not unknown individuals. I suspect most voters will make a choice wherever it is on the ballot.

A similar theory suggests Democrats fear ballot placement could insulate Musgrove from a Barack Obama voter surge, particularly in the Delta. Six months ago, I was making the argument that because the race was a special election, it would be nonpartisan and at the bottom of the ballot and many Obama supporters would not look to the end of the ballot to vote for a guy who doesn't have a "D" by his name.

Now, I'm not convinced that placement at the bottom of the ballot will result in significant voter apathy. And with independent Mississippians turning out to vote against Obama, and Republicans now energized to support the McCain-Palin ticket, placement at the top of the ballot might actually help Wicker more than Musgrove.

I've heard some Republicans suggest Musgrove's motivation is to find a way to save face, find an excuse for his ultimate defeat. That's not Musgrove's style. Musgrove is not plotting about losing, he is pouring every ounce of energy into winning.

The, maybe it is ego. Maybe Musgrove feels he deserves to be at the top of the ballot. His campaign called this "the most important election in the state." That mindset disparages the elected officials at the bottom of the ballot. If we had only one United States Senator, it would cause less impact in the lives of many Mississippians than if the school board ceased to exist. Some counties rarely see a Senator, but their election commissioners annually conduct elections. And while a Senator may come visit after a storm, it is the levee commissioners that are charged with keeping the river out of their neighbors' homes. It is Washington DC thinking to believe that because a Senator is royalty inside the Beltway, that he is somehow more important than local elected officials.

I think the purpose of the ballot dispute was the fight itself.

As the incumbent Senator, Wicker generates press: hurricane response, Yazoo pumps, federal grants, opposing/supporting/authoring legislation. If you removed all campaign earned and bought media, Wicker would still be in the news.

Musgrove does not have that luxury. He has to generate press. And with this ballot dispute, the media played their fiddles while Musgrove called the tune. I even rosined up my bow to play along.

Musgrove has parlayed this fight into fundraising, seeking contributions to fight the dirty Republicans. He has pushed the message to left wing bloggers and the New York Times to generate out-of-state buzz. And it has distracted people from the issues of the day and the gossip of campaigns. Television news doesn't have the time to do more than one segment on the Senate campaign: if ballot placement eats it up, then Musgrove wins that day.

The Wicker Campaign has not engaged in the ballot dispute calling it a matter for the election commission and saying it has more important things to do: like releasing a new attack ad linking Musgrove to beef plant "con men." Can you blame the Musgrove campaign? In a choice between talking about partisan Republicans trying to cheat, or talking about convicted felons giving to Musgrove, you would take this ballot dispute any day.

Come election day, beef plant ethics will trump ballot placement antics. And while Musgrove's campaign is dying on the ballot hill, Wicker's campaign is waging an attack on one of Musgrove's most vulnerable flanks.

Brian Perry of Jackson, a former congressional aide, is a partner in a public affairs firm. Reach him at reasonablyright@brianperry.ms.