Monday, at the monthly luncheon sponsored by The John C. Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University and the Capitol Press Corps, former Democratic Governor Ronnie Musgrove spoke to reporters about his campaign for U.S. Senate against Republican Senator Roger Wicker, who spoke last month.

In his speech, Wicker never mentioned Musgrove and only briefly even acknowledged the election. His was the speech of a Senator absent campaign rhetoric and dwelling more on wonkish policy than political swipes. On the other hand, Musgrove mentioned Wicker by name (or by "my opponent") ten times, essentially repeating his campaign stump speech from the Neshoba County Fair. Each discourse fit the respective candidate's style: Wicker implementing a Cochranesque gentlemanpolitik; Musgrove a campaign street fighter always ready for a political Pier 6 brawl.

Wicker discussed Senate accomplishments, legislative items in the pipeline, and his future policy priorities. He spoke about the Wicker Amendment that extended the start date for GO-Zone qualifying post-Katrina construction, and listed his goals for the remainder of the session including $350 million for the restoration of the barrier islands to pre-Camille levels, and acting on a commitment by Senate leadership to address all perils insurance.

Musgrove called his own campaign, "a vision for our great nation that hinges on changing how we do things in Washington." Musgrove said government is not taking care of business because it has forgotten that its business is the business of the people and not special interests. "Washington is broken and does need change," he said.

Musgrove claimed a campaign based on "fiscal responsibility, accountable government, and leaders who will listen." He said his record as governor is one of a balanced budget, teacher pay raises, and no tax increases. Musgrove is running as a fiscal conservative and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) has been running hundreds of thousands of dollars in commercials pushing that message.

It is not surprising then that the Wicker campaign has targeted the fiscal conservative lynchpin of Musgrove's message. They are exploiting the same numbers Governor Haley Barbour used to defeat Musgrove in 2003: a record of 37,000 net jobs lost and a $700 million budget hole. The attack is effective and Musgrove spent much of his Stennis luncheon speech defending himself.

Musgrove said about the same number of people were working when he started as governor as when he left. The Wicker campaign cites U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers showing a net loss of 38,400 nonfarm jobs; and a net loss of 51,000 manufacturing jobs in Mississippi during Musgrove's administration.

Musgrove said there was no budget deficit any year during his administration. The Wicker campaign uses the term "budget shortfall" rather than deficit. They shared a Hattiesburg American's editorial from 2003, "Of course, the state's budget deficit also ballooned under Musgrove's watch - from a surplus of about $230 million when he took office in January 2000 to a deficit currently estimated at between $450 million and $700 million."

Musgrove next went on the attack against Wicker accusing him of being soft on immigration and a dirty campaigner. Musgrove said Wicker told the audience at Neshoba that Obama was raising money for Musgrove, but that it is not true. "I've been on the phone five hours this morning trying to find that money," Musgrove said laughing. Let's split the difference on this one: Barack Obama is raising money for the DSCC, which is running television commercials across Mississippi promoting Musgrove and attacking Wicker. Obama said in one fundraising solicitation, "This November, we have a chance to create a Democratic Senate majority like we haven't seen in decades - but it won't happen on its own. For eighteen months...I counted on people like you to support our campaigns for president - and now I am asking you to do the same for a tremendous slate of Democratic Senate candidates by supporting the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee."

Finally, Musgrove said Wicker told Neshoba he would put veterans and the military first but he returned to Washington and voted against the defense authorization bill. Musgrove said, "His party bosses told him to vote against the troops." Right, the Republicans told veterans like Wicker, to "vote against the troops." It turns out Wicker's vote was a procedural cloture vote on whether or not to stop debating gas price legislation and move onto the defense bill. Democrats in Congress were hot to shut down gas price debates.

So let me get this straight, Ronnie Musgrove, a Democrat, is running against Washington, controlled by Democrats. He attacks his opponent for a procedural vote on whether to extend debates on gas price legislation, and calls it a "vote against the troops" even though the defense bill won't be voted on until after the August recess? That much Washington spin even makes me dizzy.

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