To the chagrin of gossip columnists all over the country, Mississippi Gov. Kirk Fordice's eight-year reign will come to an end this fall and the Republican official's romantic exploits and colorful repartee will recede into the spicy annals of southern political history.

Fordice, forced from office by term limits, will be succeeded either by former representative Mike Parker (R) or Lt. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove (D), who won their respective primaries Tuesday.

Parker surprised some observers by escaping a Republican runoff, capturing 51 percent of the vote in a competitive field. Musgrove had an easier time, finishing with 57 percent.

After electing Democratic governors in an uninterrupted string beginning in 1876, Mississippi has trended solidly Republican in recent years. The last Democratic presidential candidate to carry the state was Jimmy Carter in 1976. The last Democrat to win the governorship was Ray Mabus in 1987.

Nonetheless, Musgrove leads in early opinion polls and is considered a formidable candidate by political observers based on his experience in statewide office.

"He's had a lot of public policy success," said University of Mississippi political science professor Stephen Shaffer, particularly pushing a controversial education tax bill through the state legislature over a Fordice veto in 1997.

Parker, elected to the House as a Democrat in 1988 before switching parties in 1995 and being reelected as a Republican, is regarded as a moderate and known for his folksy, populist appeal. His television ads in the primary featured him deer hunting and campaigning so hard along Mississippi's country roads that he posed a serious vehicular threat to the state's slow-moving armadillo population.

A Musgrove win would continue a remarkable southern renaissance for Democrats, who recaptured governor's mansions in South Carolina and Alabama last year.

Montana's House Member Won't Run Again The voters in Montana will have someone new representing them in the House next year -- the entire state is one congressional district.

Republican Rep. Rick Hill, citing problems with his eyes stemming from radial keratotomy surgery that blurred his vision instead of correcting his nearsightedness, announced he will not seek a third term.

Hill, 52, said that he is confident the Montana GOP will retain the seat. Democrats had viewed Hill, who had made controversial comments about his likely Democratic challenger, as vulnerable.

Hill, who was running even in the polls with State Superintendent Nancy Keenan, had said that he was more qualified than Keenan to serve in Congress because he had raised a family.

Daschle on Springer Bid: Turn It Off There are limits beyond which Senate Democrats will not go in pursuit of a candidate to oppose Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) next year: His name is Jerry Springer.

The controversial television talk show host and former Cincinnati mayor continues to say that he's giving serious consideration to seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge first-termer DeWine, whom Democrats see as vulnerable if they could ever find a candidate to run against him.

But asked about a possible Springer candidacy at a breakfast with reporters yesterday morning, Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) left little doubt as to what he thinks about the prospect.

"I don't want him to run. I think he's a joke," Daschle said.

Staff writer Helen Dewar contributed to this report.