Democrats ‘selective,’ not racist, in aligning with Musgrove

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 7, 2008

Imagine what it would be like to be Erik Fleming, sitting at home watching all those TV commercials the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee keeps buying to support Ronnie Musgrove.

Who’s Erik Fleming?

Why he’s the former state representative from Jackson who ran against Sen. Trent Lott two years ago and he’s the Democratic nominee running against Republican Sen. Thad Cochran on November ballots.

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Never heard of him?

That’s likely because his campaign purses have never contained anything but a few moths fluttering around.

When Fleming took on Lott in 2006 there was also a Democrat vs. Republican contest immediately north in Tennessee. There, for the seat being vacated by Sen. Bill Frist, a Republican, the contest was between former U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., a Democrat, and a fellow by the name of Bob Corker, a Republican.

Howard Dean and the Democratic National Committee decided Ford could win and the money poured in. In the end, Corker polled 51 percent of the vote and has joined the U.S. Senate — but Ford came closer to being the first black member of the U.S. Senate from a Southern state than anyone since Blanche Kelso Bruce’s term representing Mississippi ended in 1881.

But rather than deciding Fleming, who is also black, was worth an investment, Dean and the DNC took a pass and, well, we’ve already said the thing about the moths. Lott, who could probably have handily beaten any candidate of any race, trounced Fleming with 64 percent of the vote.

Well, as things turned out, Lott resigned a year after being re-elected. That has set up the special election to be held on Nov. 4 between interim U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, who is a Republican, and Musgrove, the former governor. One of them will serve the four years remaining on Lott’s term.

As everyone knows, it’s the Wicker-Musgrove contest that is getting the most ink and air time. But also on Nov. 4 ballots will be a general election in which Thad Cochran, a Republican, is standing for re-election against Fleming, who is running again and won the Democratic primary in the spring. One of them will be elected to a full, six-year term.

During the Democratic National Convention, Fleming’s blood boiled past the breaking point and he fired off a statement accusing his party of racism.

“It is with great dissapointment that in the wake of a unifying speech by Sen. Hillary Clinton that I have to inform the public the message of unity is not being conveyed by all members of the Democratic Party, specifically her colleague Sen. Charles Schumer and the DSCC,” Fleming wrote.

Pointing to himself and Alabama state Sen. Vivian Figures, who faces a similarly quixotic quest for a Senate seat, Fleming wrote the DSCC is “openly discriminatory” because “we are black candidates running in Southern states.” Not only is the committee not providing ads or funds, Fleming wrote, the national organization won’t even send out their press releases.

“In Mississippi it is very blatant,” Fleming wrote, “as on their Web site (the DSCC) lists Mississippi as a battleground state, but from their actions, they see only one candidate, Ronnie Musgrove.”

Fleming went on to imply he and Figures have been told they are being passed over not because of their race, but because they have low poll numbers. But that’s a chicken and egg thing in Fleming’s view. There’s no way to rise in the polls without getting out his message, which is essentially the same as presidential nominee Barack Obama’s, and it takes money to do that.

In asking the committee to reconsider, Fleming tossed in a swipe at the presidential nominee, suggesting “the DSCC disregard its previous notions about the South and viable African-American candidates who did not attend Ivy League schools (as Obama did). The people of Mississippi and Alabama seek the same sort of change that everyone else in America desires. The Democratic African-American candidates who offer that change in the South should be given the same support as Democratic candidates throughout this nation” and, implicitly, as Ford was two years ago.

It’s not known if the DSCC responded to Fleming. Odds are the writers of the big checks will keep funding Musgrove and won’t spend a penny to favor the former state lawmaker.

The reason, however, is not race.

As many have observed, for Musgrove to win what is essentially an open seat, he’ll have to get every Mississippi vote cast for Obama plus a slice of those who believe the former governor to be sufficiently conservative on social and fiscal topics. Fleming is just flat-out too liberal to get those extra “conservative” votes.

The DSCC can fairly be accused of talking party unity while being less than evenhanded in supporting party candidates. But it’s not necessarily racist. It’s what our current president calls “strategery.”