Georgia’s US Senate runoff has broader political importance
The post-election vote could tighten Democrats’ grip on Capitol Hill while giving GOP stars a chance to shine.
The last voters in the historic 2008 election headed back to the polls in Georgia on Tuesday, ready to decide the extent of the Democrats’ grip on Washington and give Republican standard-bearers clues as to how to operate as outsiders.Skip to next paragraph
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“I don’t mind voting again,” says Democrat James Cato, an Atlanta travel agent, braving a brisk morning to file an early vote for the Dec. 2 runoff between Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss and Democratic challenger Jim Martin. “I tend to come out when I feel my vote is really going to count.”
The Senate runoff between two former University of Georgia fraternity brothers is the first election after Barack Obama won the presidency. It’s become increasingly important as Democrats won the Alaska recount this week, putting them within two seats of gaining a 60-seat filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. That makes the Georgia runoff the last seat to be decided by voters as the disputed Minnesota race now heads to a recount.
As the GOP’s current panoply of stars – Gov. Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, and Mike Huckabee – prepare to stump for Mr. Chambliss, the Georgia runoff has become a stage for potential Republican national candidates to find their footing, hone their messages, and begin formulating the answer to a vexing question: How to marshal the vaunted independent vote and rebuild the party from what Duke University political scientist Michael Munger calls “the smoking ruins.”
GOP stars play to larger audience
“This is the first quick election after the Obama victory,” says Mr. Munger. “So when we see these people coming in and trying out messages ... they’re trying out messages for a larger stage.”
To be sure, that stage is looking dusty, even in this Republican shoo-in state. “The really bad thing for Republicans is that there’s any runoff at all – this was thought to be a completely safe seat,” says David Rohde, also a Duke election expert. “For the Republican party and for the way each party can see itself in the national context, it has a lot of implications.”
It’s personal between Chambliss and Mr. Martin, who have run a series of highly negative ads attacking each other’s characters and associations.
Chambliss, who was first swept into office as part of the Republican revolution in 1994, is having an image crisis of his own making – testing even Republicans’ patience. At a recent Senate hearing, he defended corporations by berating a safety whistle-blower. Many conservative Georgians are upset about Chambliss’s support for the $700 billion Wall Street bailout.