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Survey data help explain GOP victories in Kentucky, Mississippi

MIKE MOKRZYCKI, Associated Press Writer Monday, November 10, 2003

Exit polls released Monday help explain Republican gubernatorial victories last week, finding that Haley Barbour overcame high black turnout with overwhelming support from whites in Mississippi while Ernie Fletcher capitalized on ill will toward the scandal-plagued Democratic incumbent in Kentucky.

The surveys also suggest that Kentucky and Mississippi, both of which backed George W. Bush for president in 2000, still lean his way for 2004.

The exit polls in the Nov. 4 elections were the first conducted for the National Election Pool, a consortium formed by The Associated Press, ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox and NBC after they disbanded Voter News Service following blown projections in 2000 and computer failures in 2001.

The data weren't released until Monday so that the pollsters -- Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International -- could validate the results from this initial live run of their new systems. An Edison/Mitofsky exit poll in last month's California gubernatorial recall election used older systems.

The surveys in 35 randomly selected precincts in each state included 1,861 interviews in Kentucky and 1,859 in Mississippi. Results are subject to sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points, higher for individual groups such as black voters.

In Mississippi, 33 percent of voters were black -- 3 to 6 points higher than in VNS exit polls in the past three presidential elections -- and 94 percent of them voted to re-elect Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove.

But 77 percent of whites backed Barbour, propelling the Washington lobbyist and former national Republican chairman to victory with 53 percent of the overall vote.

Black turnout may have gotten a boost in Mississippi because Democratic nominees in two down-ballot races were black. Both lost, however, as just 8 percent of whites voted for Barbara Blackmon for lieutenant governor and only 22 percent of whites backed Gary Anderson for treasurer.

Musgrove also lost some support from his first gubernatorial election in 1999. Among voters who said they backed Musgrove then, one in four voted for Barbour. And while Musgrove tried to paint his opponent's Washington ties as a negative for Mississippi, six in 10 voters said Barbour's experience would help the state.

In Kentucky, 18 percent said one reason for their vote for governor was to express opposition to term-limited Gov. Paul Patton, and 84 percent of them voted for Fletcher. Patton admitted having an extramarital affair and his administration is the subject of numerous investigations.

While 77 percent said Patton was not a factor in their vote, Democratic nominee Ben Chandler's 52-48 edge among that group wasn't enough to surmount the anti-Patton sentiment. Fletcher won with 55 percent of the vote.

Fletcher, a congressman, won 24 percent of self-described Democrats in becoming the first Republican elected Kentucky governor in more than 30 years, while just 9 percent of Republicans backed Chandler, the state attorney general. Independents favored Fletcher 56-43.

Looking ahead to 2004, pluralities of around 45 percent in both states said they definitely would vote for Bush if the presidential election were today while about 35 percent definitely would vote for someone else. Those who haven't firmly made up their minds comprised 20 percent of the gubernatorial electorate in Kentucky and 17 percent in Mississippi.

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