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NRCC Gets Its Man in Georgia: Goddard to Challenge Marshall

Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Rick Goddard (R) said Monday he has decided to challenge Rep. Jim Marshall (D-Ga.) next year, ensuring that the race in the 8th district will be a hotly contested battleground in the House GOP’s efforts to regain ground in the 2008 elections.

Marshall was re-elected last year by fewer than 2,000 votes and is a top target for Republicans, who were elated by the recruiting coup.

The National Republican Congressional Committee tried unsuccessfully to get Goddard to run against Marshall in 2004, but Goddard said this week that the Democratic takeover of Congress motivated him to finally take the plunge.

“In the past I’ve really never shown much interest in becoming a politician myself, quite frankly,” Goddard said in an interview from his office at Mercer University, where he now serves as vice president of technology and public policy.

He said he later plans to take a leave of absence to campaign full time.

Until his retirement from the military in 2000, Goddard was commander of the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center at Robins Air Force Base, the state’s largest industrial complex. The base is located in the south-central 8th district, and most of its employees live there as well.

Goddard said he has been discouraged with the course the current leadership has taken with regard to the Iraq War, and he accused Democrats of “undermining our troops” and “giving comfort to the enemy.”

“They’ve shown that they have no ideas. All they’ve shown is acrimony and political posturing,” he said. “I really do believe America is in danger if this leadership continues, so I think I need to be a part of the solution.”

Ken Spain, a spokesman for the NRCC, called Goddard’s decision “one of our best recruitment successes to date.”

Military and defense issues are expected to be the central points in the campaign, and both Goddard and Marshall are decorated Vietnam veterans. Goddard flew 227 combat missions as a fighter pilot in the war, while Marshall was inducted into the Army Ranger Hall of Fame last year.

Marshall, a former Macon mayor, has bucked his party’s leadership often and built a legislative record that largely fits his rural, culturally conservative constituency. He has opposed Democrats’ recent efforts to set a withdrawal timeline for getting U.S. troops out of Iraq.

A spokesman for the Congressman had little to say in response to the news that Goddard is joining the race.

“Jim appreciates Gen. Goddard’s service in the military and he’s going to continue to represent the people and values of middle and south Georgia to the best of his ability,” said Marshall spokesman Doug Moore.

Marshall, who harbors statewide aspirations, also has been mentioned as a potential challenger to Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) in 2008. However, the third-term Congressman has made little movement toward a Senate run.

The GOP-controlled state Legislature undertook a mid-decade redistricting in 2005, altering Marshall’s district and making it more favorable to Republicans. Marshall, who had won 60 percent of the vote in 2004, barely won re-election last year against former Rep. Mac Collins (R-Ga.).

The reconfigured 8th district (formerly the 3rd district, it was renumbered during the 2005 redistricting) would have voted for President Bush with 61 percent of the vote in 2004. Next year will mark the first presidential contest to take place in the redrawn district, and GOP operatives are hopeful that Republican turnout will be elevated due to the national elections.

Democrats, meanwhile, counter that turnout among black voters in the state also is higher in presidential years and that Democratic turnout was somewhat depressed last year in the GOP-trending state in part because of the less-than-competitive re-election of Gov. Sonny Perdue (R).

Goddard, 63, and his wife, Judy, have remained politically active since he retired seven years ago. His wife has served as chairwoman of the Houston County Republican Party.

In the 2002 Senate race, Goddard endorsed now-Sen. Chambliss over then-Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.), who, like Goddard, is a Vietnam veteran.

Chambliss did not serve in the military because of a bad knee, and the endorsement drew sharp criticism from some veterans.

“Many veterans have an allegiance to people who served,” Goddard told the Savannah Morning News at the time. “But you really have to look past that. Congressman Chambliss was the leader on every piece of legislation during my tenure [at Warner Robins]. If Max Cleland was aboard, it was always, ‘Me, too.’”

Goddard’s son was a Congressional aide to Chambliss at the time.

Chambliss represented much of what is now the 8th district when he served in the House, and he will be on the ballot facing his first re-election in 2008.

Marshall challenged Chambliss in 2000 and lost badly. He won the open-seat race to succeed him in 2002.

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