The never-ending saga of the Mississippi governor's race continues.

On Election Day, Lt. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove (D) narrowly edged Mike Parker (R) in the popular vote to succeed term-limited Gov. Kirk Fordice (R) but failed to garner the 50-percent-plus-one vote required for victory under the Mississippi Constitution. Parker refused to concede.

The race is now headed to the Mississippi State House, a Democratic-dominated body that most observers expect will rubber-stamp Musgrove's election when it convenes in January.

But there is a catch.

Parker supporters recently dredged up another quirk in the Mississippi law--inserted in the state's Constitution after Reconstruction to blunt the political power of newly enfranchised African Americans--that requires any statewide candidate to win a majority of electoral votes. Each of Mississippi's 122 state House districts represents one electoral vote.

The secretary of state's office in Mississippi has certified neither the popular vote total nor the electoral count (that is expected to happen this week), but a study by the Associated Press and the Jackson Clarion-Ledger newspaper indicates that the electoral count is a tie: 61 to 61.

That result will undoubtedly embolden Parker and his supporters to continue courting state House Democrats in the hopes that the tie will help sway enough of them to give Parker the governorship. But it is still a highly unlikely result.

Ultimately, the legacy of the Parker-Musgrove battle could be written into the state's Constitution. Members of the state House already are talking about passing an amendment to strip away the post-Reconstruction provisions, which would return the state to a system that elects governors on popular vote alone.

Bauer Miffed Over La. Caucus

Gary Bauer is steamed at recent efforts to scuttle Louisiana's presidential caucuses, scheduled to take place Jan. 15. The GOP presidential candidate sent a letter to Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R) on Friday accusing him of having his "surrogate," Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster (R), attempt to kill the caucuses, which have been foundering since Steve Forbes announced he would not participate. Bauer also sent a letter to Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson asking him to intervene, citing an RNC rule that bars states from changing their primary and caucus dates after July 1.

Bush's Squeaky Clean Ad

Texas Gov. George W. Bush never mentions President Clinton's name, but his latest television ad makes clear that he's peddling a clean break after the stain of impeachment.

Holding babies, kissing children and greeting supporters, the Republican presidential candidate quotes people as telling him: "Governor, I want my child to look at the White House and to be proud of what he or she sees." The Texas governor, who regularly invokes that theme on the stump, says it's "really important for moms and dads" to be able to eye the executive mansion and say: "That person has brought honor and dignity to the office."

The spot, which begins airing today in New Hampshire, may subtly evoke memories of Bush's father, the former president, as a contrast to the White House scandals of recent years.

Postscripts

Utah Sen. Orrin G. Hatch's campaign said this week that the Republican presidential candidate has qualified for federal matching funds, with more than 12,000 small donors sending checks to the campaign. . . . Vice President Gore picked up the endorsement of the Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers last night.

Staff writer Howard Kurtz contributed to this report.