MC

Mississippi College

MC School of Law Debate Spotlights U.S. Senate Race

October 8, 2008

A U.S. Senate debate at the Mississippi College School of Law reached thousands of Mississippi television viewers and a national audience. But it also brought positive media exposure to the 545-student law school in downtown Jackson.

WLBT-TV 3 in Jackson provided statewide coverage of the debate live to its five affiliate stations. C-Span broadcast the program to its audience in all 50 states and is keeping a copy in its video library.

The exchanges Friday evening between U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, a Republican, and his Democratic challenger, former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, were often pretty sharp and combative. The event packed the 140-seat auditorium, including an army of Mississippi reporters.

Front-page coverage in Saturday's Clarion-Ledger by reporter Natalie Chandler, in the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo by reporter Bobby Harrison, and coverage in a host of other media outlets brought positive recognition to the MC School of Law on East Griffith Street.

MCSOL Dean Jim Rosenblatt was pleased with the turnout, the media coverage and the way the debate was handled by moderator Maggie Wade Dixon, a WLBT anchor. Joining her was a panel of TV journalists firing questions to the two Senate rivals.

"I know of no better way to expose the candidates to the people of Mississippi than through this medium of a televised debate," Rosenblatt said Monday. "The candidates have similar views on many issues important to Mississippians."

Minutes before the debate began. Rosenblatt went over the ground rules to members of the audience that was evenly split between Musgrove and Wicker supporters. Cheering or loud applause for either candidate was prohibited during the verbal sparring match. Members of MC's debate team, and a speech class from the University of Southern Mississippi plus MCSOL law students were among those on hand to witness the 60-minute event.

The Oct. 3 debate took place about one month before voters to go to the polls Nov. 4 to elect a U.S. senator and a new president and cast ballots in key congressional elections.

"To some extent this (Senate) race may be decided on which party the people of Mississippi believe can best deal with the economic crisis and provide for the security of our country," Rosenblatt said. Politics is in his blood. The law dean's father served in the Mississippi Legislature decades ago.

Rosenblatt handled much of the detail work and the negotiations with WLBT-TV 3 news director Dennis Smith to make the debate possible. "MCSOL was pleased to cooperate with WLBT to offer this debate." But the dean received help along the way. MCSOL student organizations, staff at the law school and other staffers on the main campus in Clinton pitched in. A plentiful supply of food - from chunks of pineapple to sweet tea to salad - was on hand for hungry visitors.

"I was very proud of our student organizations that came together to assist with providing support for the debate," Rosenblatt said. "We have students affiliated with the two parties who joined forces to ensure the administration of the debate went well."

Added Rosenblatt, "I would like to see similar bipartisanship and cooperation in the halls of Congress!"

Gov. Haley Barbour appointed Wicker to serve on an interim basis to succeed former U.S. Sen. Trent Lott in late December 2007. The Tupelo resident was serving as Mississippi's First District congressman. Musgrove, who is now a Ridgeland attorney, served as Mississippi governor from 2000 to 2004. While they slammed one another in TV ads and during their MCSOL debate, Musgrove and Wicker were roommates in Jackson when they served years ago in the Mississippi Senate.

PHOTO: Dean Rosenblatt welcomes everyone before the debate.