With Chambliss, Republicans win one in the South
GOP’s conservative base in Georgia prevents a Democratic filibuster-proof majority in the US Senate.
Georgia voters reelected an unpopular Gingrich-era Republican senator here on Tuesday, dashing Democratic hopes of a filibuster-proof majority in the United States Senate and giving a small moral victory to Southern conservatives a month after losing a seismic presidential election.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
In the final vote of the 2008 election season, Saxby Chambliss beat his college fraternity brother, Jim Martin, by a handy 57 to 43 percent in a race that involved an invigorated Republican ground machine, millions of dollars pouring in from out of state, and candidates abandoning constructive campaigning to bash each other with nasty TV ads.
While the state of the US economy makes it tough to draw broad political conclusions, Senator Chambliss’ victory showed many Republicans that the party is not as down and out as many have predicted and that the Democrats, despite their successes in the November election, can still be vulnerable.
“The emerging story, particularly after Tuesday, is you’re going to see the reemergence of a very muscular Republican ground game,” says political consultant Ralph Reed of Atlanta.
The stakes here were high, both for measuring the electorate’s druthers and for gleaning insight into the possibilities for the nine Southern Senate seats that are expected to be contested in the 2010 midterm elections.
The Chambliss victory is “kind of a status quo outcome,” says political scientist Randall Strahan at Emory University in Atlanta. “The extraordinary outcome would have been if a Democratic candidate were to win the seat, which would have suggested that a political tide that has been running in the South for a long time has really reversed direction.”
In the end, Mr. Martin failed to energize those who had voted for Barack Obama, while Republicans overcame voter anger against Chambliss for voting for the $700 financial bailout bill, by deploying a massive, star-studded ground game. Business groups and national Republican organizations spent $4.2 million in Georgia in the past four weeks, nearly twice as much as Democrats spent on Martin.
“What this is saying is that the Nov. 4 election scared the base,” says Keith Stone, a utility subcontractor in rural Nashville, Ga. “We saw Obama get elected, and we were a hair away from having another Obama in Jim Martin. This was a base vote.”
Indeed, the national story line of a referendum on a potential Democratic supermajority trickled down into Georgia, where voters on both sides came out to try to make a difference in Washington.