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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.

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“A major part of the advertising from [Chambliss] is that this [runoff] is now the front line for the battle of ideological control of the nation,” says Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia in Athens. “So if you’re a conservative and worried about what the Democrats may do with the White House and [Congress], here’s where you could make a difference.”

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Martin faces his own challenges.

Chambliss seems to be winning points by drawing Martin into a debate over a “fair tax” proposal that shows some promise as a future Republican drawing card.

Still, says Munger, “The Republicans are demoralized, it’s hard to get partisans out, and Democrats could win by a ton of votes.” Thus, the parade of stars on behalf of Chambliss.

Last week, Zell Miller, the former Democratic senator who blasted John Kerry at the 2004 Republican convention, stumped for Chambliss. “I don’t like this ‘spread the wealth,’” Mr. Miller told a raucous partisan crowd. “To steal from Peter to pay Paul, even if it gets Paul to vote for you, is wrong, wrong, wrong.”

John McCain, Mr. Huckabee and Mr. Romney split the Republican ticket by thirds in the Georgia primary, with Huckabee eking out the win. Former Arkansas governor and pastor Huckabee now has a show on Fox News; Romney is the economic strategist and corporate turnaround artist; and Ms. Palin, who had a rough entry into national politics, can also find a stage in Georgia unshackled from McCain.

Party unity is being tested

They all appeal to various strands of the fractured GOP coalition. But the question, especially in light of the primary results, is whether one of them can unite the GOP.

They’re likely to test their chances in Georgia, says Napp Nazworth, a political science lecturer at the University of Georgia. Huckabee’s message is, “I’m conservative, but I’m not angry about it,” says Mr. Nazworth. For Palin, he says, “it depends on her being able to reinvent herself as someone who can appeal beyond the base.”

For their part, Democrats have been begging Mr. Obama to come, but he has so far demurred. But Bill Clinton was scheduled to speak at Clark Atlanta University on Wednesday, providing a foil to the Republican heavyweights.

Victor Davis Hanson, a political commentator and classics professor at the University of California, Fresno, says the runoff here will give clues as to how deep the Republican dilemma really runs, and who might be best to carry the GOP standard forward.

“For now,” Mr. Hanson writes in an e-mail, “Republicans can’t agree whether (1) much needs changing ideology-wise ... since many conservative ballot measures passed, or (2) Democratic success ... proves that the [Republican] base and its ideas are hopelessly unappealing to growing numbers of youth, minorities, and women, or (3) the conservative message is fine but needs to be repackaged for the times with better spokespeople.”