Chambliss Wins Georgia Runoff

Posted December 2, 2008 at 8:19pm

Updated: Dec. 3, 10:05 a.m. After falling just short of earning a second term on Nov. 4, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) finished the job on Tuesday, defeating Democrat Jim Martin in a runoff that drew many of the top political names in the country to the Peach State over the past four weeks. With 97 percent of precincts reporting Wednesday morning, Chambliss held 57 percent of the vote to Martin’s taking 43 percent, which translates to a lead of about 315,000 votes. When Martin, a former state Representative, emerged from a primary runoff over the summer to win the Democratic nomination in Georgia, he was viewed as little more than a sacrificial lamb in what had been considered a safe GOP seat. But that was before Chambliss’ campaign took a nosedive in the face of the country’s economic downturn and a push by national Democrats to make the contest a late spending priority. On Nov. 4, Chambliss was held to just under 50 percent with Martin taking 47 percent and a Libertarian candidate taking the remainder of the vote. But Chambliss, with heavy financial support from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, launched into the runoff with vigor, pushing a national message in which he described his seat as the “firewall” against a filibuster-proof Democratic majority in the Senate. He sought to fire up his conservative base – which he admitted had been lukewarm on him during the general election – by bringing in the party’s biggest celebrities, including Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. That base, which helped McCain carry the state by 5 points in November, returned with enough strength to carry Chambliss to victory on Tuesday. Martin’s own attempts to fire up his base were aided by appearances in the Peach State by such Democratic stars as former President Bill Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore. But Martin was unable to bring his party’s biggest star, President-elect Barack Obama, into Georgia to campaign with him. Martin, who admitted to supporting former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) in the Democratic primary, tied his runoff campaign closely to Obama and touted radio ads and robocalls that the president-elect cut for the Martin camp. But Obama’s decision not to campaign with Martin in Georgia has been viewed as an effort by the incoming administration not to risk Obama’s newly gained political capital on what was still seen as an uphill race for Democrats. With Chambliss’ victory, the only Senate race from the 2008 cycle left unresolved is in Minnesota, where Sen. Norm Coleman (R) is clinging to a lead of fewer than 300 votes over comedian Al Franken (D). State officials are in the midst of a laborious hand recount. So far, the Democrats have picked up seven Senate seats this cycle, bringing their total in the chamber to 58 seats.