Democrats in Georgia head back to the polls Tuesday to choose their Senate nominee, while Republicans in two open-seat districts will essentially decide who will take over the seats in Congress next January.
In the Senate runoff, Rep. Denise Majette and wealthy businessman Cliff Oxford are squaring off for the Democratic nomination in the race to succeed retiring Sen. Zell Miller (D). Rep. Johnny Isakson won the Republican primary outright last month and is considered the heavy favorite to win in November.
Oxford, who has spent heavily from his personal resources, has focused primarily on the outsourcing of American jobs. But his campaign has been plagued by rookie stumbles, and most observers view the nomination as Majette’s to lose.
The one-term Congresswoman from DeKalb County has largely run a low-visibility, grassroots campaign.
“I’ll be shocked if Majette doesn’t win by a lot,” said one Georgia Democratic source.
Majette, who received the backing of the state AFL-CIO earlier in the race, was recently endorsed by the Sierra Club.
And in a major blow to Oxford’s campaign, Chip Carter, the son of former President Jimmy Carter, announced last Wednesday he is supporting Majette. The younger Carter had been a supporter and paid adviser to Oxford, and his father had initially encouraged the technology entrepreneur to enter the race.
But even if Majette does easily defeat Oxford, she is expected to face a hard road to victory in November.
One of Majette’s biggest obstacles will be to raise enough money to stay competitive with Isakson, who raised almost $5.5 million through the end of June. Also working against Majette is the fact that the state has trended Republican in recent years and that Senate Democrats do not appear to be factoring a victory in Georgia into their equation for winning a majority in November.
In a conference call with reporters prior to last month’s Democratic National Convention, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Jon Corzine (N.J.) made no mention of the Peach State race as he discussed Democratic prospects of reaching a 51-seat majority.
Georgia is also not expected to be contested on the presidential level, although Democratic turnout in the state is likely to be elevated this year. A poll released last week showed President Bush leading Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) by 9 points in Georgia. Bush won the state by 12 points in 2000.
Democrats, however, say that black turnout was underweighted in the poll and that the race is actually closer than the survey indicated.
While Georgia’s Senate race is not expected to play prominently on the national stage this fall, broader implications could flow from the 8th district runoff, in which voters could set the stage for the election of a black Republican this fall.
State House Minority Leader Lynn Westmoreland and former Bush White House aide Dylan Glenn are squaring off in what has devolved into a nasty GOP runoff to succeed Rep. Mac Collins (R). Collins finished third in the party’s Senate primary last month.
While Westmoreland led Glenn 46 percent to 38 percent in the initial round of balloting, the runoff has turned into a negative TV ad war in the past week and drawn in prominent Republicans from across the state and nation.
Glenn, who is black, has campaigned with former Rep. J.C. Watts (Okla.), the last black Republican to serve in the chamber, as well as with former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) during the runoff. Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack Kemp has also endorsed Glenn.
Watts campaigned for Glenn last week but did not discuss the issue of race on the stump. The district has is 88 percent white.
Although an earlier poll conducted for Westmoreland’s campaign showed him well-positioned in the runoff, Glenn released a poll of 400 voters last week that showed him leading Westmoreland 46 percent to 38 percent. He led 35 percent to 25 percent among the “most committed” voters.
Meanwhile, Westmoreland further fueled the perception that his campaign may be in trouble by launching a harsh television ad last week calling Glenn “the political opportunist you can’t trust.”
The ad notes Glenn’s two failed Congressional bids in the neighboring 2nd district and charges that he established a charity but then ended up paying himself $100,000 before abandoning the effort and skipping town.
Glenn’s campaign countered that he left the organization in 2001 when he accepted a job in the Bush administration.
The ad, which tags Westmoreland as “the conservative you can trust,” also uses unflattering images of Glenn that were drawn from an HBO documentary about him.
While Westmoreland’s campaign maintains that the ad was aired in response to a negative spot put up by Glenn, the ad prompted Miller to enter the fray. In a statement read by Gingrich at an event Thursday, the retiring Senator — elected as a Democrat but recently siding vociferously with Republicans — chided the state lawmaker’s attack against Glenn’s integrity.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and four Members of the state’s GOP House delegation are backing Westmoreland.
Meanwhile, in other runoff activity tomorrow, GOP voters in the 6th district will choose between state Sens. Robert Lamutt and Tom Price. The two men are vying to succeed Isakson in the safe Republican seat.
Price won the most votes in a crowded primary, but the geographical odds appear to be stacked against him in the runoff. The 6th district is largely made up of Cobb County, Lamutt’s home base.
State Sen. Chuck Clay (R), who is also from Cobb and placed third in the primary, endorsed Lamutt in the runoff, as have the bulk of GOP leaders in the county.
Price is from Fulton County, where roughly one-third of district voters reside. Still, he claims support from across the district, which also includes a portion of Cherokee County.
Lamutt and Price have sparred over tax votes in the final week of the campaign.