Fordice Wins Second Term as Mississippi Governor
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) _ Republican Gov. Kirk Fordice rebuffed a strong challenge from Democrat Dick Molpus to win a second term on Tuesday.
Fordice was polling more than 55 percent of the vote after a racially tinged campaign that turned increasingly bitter in its final days.
Mississippi’s first GOP governor this century, he becomes the first chief executive to win back-to-back terms since Robert Lowery in the 1880s.
Fordice based his aggressive campaign on the same conservative, anti-government message he wielded four years ago to defeat incumbent Ray Mabus, a moderate Democrat who is now U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia.
Mississippi, Louisiana and Kentucky were the only states with gubernatorial elections this year.
The 61-year-old Fordice, who promised four years ago not to seek a second term, looked secure in the early months of the race against the moderate three-term secretary of state, whom he tried to link to President Clinton.
But late polls suggested the contractor from Vicksburg might be in trouble, particularly among women and black voters, as Molpus steered the campaign toward the issues of education and gambling.
As the campaign waned, Fordice cut back on feel-good advertising about his efforts to create jobs and end welfare. He began running an ad portraying Molpus as a slumlord of crime-infested housing projects.
Molpus denounced the TV commercial as ``a blatant, outright lie,″ then ran a radio ad saying Fordice wanted to send black Mississippians ``to the back of the bus.″
The Fordice campaign denounced the reference to segregation as race baiting.
The 46-year-old Molpus crisscrossed the state, accusing Fordice of dividing Mississippians and promising to unify blacks and whites.
He promoted a plan to cut the state’s 7 percent sales tax on groceries, and ran an ad using public school teachers and his wife, Sally, a onetime teacher, to attack a Fordice plan that he claims could put tax money into private schools.
Fordice promised to lower the state’s already low income tax and pointed to the state’s growing economy, boosted largely by legalized gambling, which he opposes.
He also hammered at Molpus’ 16-year government career, which Fordice said qualified him as a ``career politician.″
The race included some emotional confrontations, both political and personal. Molpus publicly threatened to take Fordice ``to the woodshed″ after the governor accused his wife of lying in campaign ads. Fordice quietly warned Molpus after a debate that he would ``whip your ass,″ although the Fordice camp said the incumbent only warned his challenger to stop telling lies.