MISSISSIPPI, one of three states that elects a governor this year, holds its primary and runoff elections in August and, as you might expect, politics there has been heating up. The Democrats had lots of serious contenders and the Republicans very few in their primaries last week, but in each party one candidate led by a wide margin. Businessman Jack Reed won the Republican nomination outright and may make a serious race of it, though Republicans have not won the governorship since Reconstruction. Among the Democrats, State Auditor Raymond Mabus led with 39 percent of the vote and faces a runoff Aug. 25 with Delta businessman Mike Sturdivant, who trailed with 16 percent. In the last five elections, the No. 2 finisher in the first primary has moved ahead and won the runoff. But this time Mr. Mabus, who as auditor has with much publicity fought corruption and conflict of interest by county supervisors, has great affirmative popularity, and Mr. Sturdivant has a particularly long way to go.
The Mississippi contests have been interesting for what the candidates have been talking about -- and for what seems to have made no difference at all. The issues are education and jobs. Mississippi has not rebounded well from the recession of the early 1980s, leaving it still clearly 50th in the nation by most economic indicators; the low taxes and the lack of heavy government regulation that supply-side theory says should automatically produce economic growth are failing to work their purported magic. So Mr. Mabus talks about how local government corruption has prevented Mississippi from improving public schools and attracting new business, while Mr. Sturdivant argues that Mississippi should add to its current competency tests a program of evaluating teachers' work in the classroom. Naturally the candidates attack their rivals. But each seems not to be projecting different goals, but trying to put himself nearest a statewide consensus.
Black voters supported both Democrats in large numbers, with Mr. Sturdivant getting support from blacks in his home area in the Delta and Mr. Mabus in his base around Jackson; black Mississippians and white Mississippians seem to see this election in pretty much the same way. The issues the candidates stress are far removed from the hideous race-baiting that used to be so common in Mississippi politics. Mississippi seems dissatisfied with its efforts in education and economic development, eager to do better. But its black and white leaders and voters have reason to be proud of their progress in developing a nonracial politic