CQ TODAY ONLINE NEWS
July 16, 2008 – 12:12 a.m.
House Incumbents Easily Hold That Line in Georgia Primaries
Republican Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia’s 10th District on Tuesday easily deflected a primary challenge from state Rep. Barry Fleming — and dissolved the aspersion that his upset win in a special election held almost exactly a year ago was a fluke.
Broun held a lopsided 71 percent to 29 percent lead over Fleming with 96 percent of precincts reporting, even though the challenger had rallied much of the northeastern Georgia district’s Republican officialdom around his candidacy. His win came on a primary day when another incumbent, 12th District Democrat John Barrow , also easily defeated a challenger, and when 5th District Democratic Rep. John Lewis , an icon of the civil rights movement, was easily fending off two younger African-American opponents.
The crowded Democratic Senate primary appeared certain to send the front-running candidates, Vernon Jones and Jim Martin, on to an Aug. 5 runoff to determine who will stage a longshot bid to unseat first-term Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss in November. None of the Democratic candidates appeared close to the majority vote needed to win outright and avoid a runoff.
The 10th District race drew considerable attention because of the rare massing of a party’s political establishment against an incumbent. Fleming — who entered this year’s primary shortly after Broun won his seat in the July 2007 special election runoff — subscribed to the idea that Broun defeated a fellow Republican, state Sen. Jim Whitehead, in that contest with strong support from Democratic voters who had no candidate of their own in that final round vote.
In some ways, this year’s primary appeared similar to last year’s special election. Broun hails from the district population center of Athens-Clarke County, while Fleming, like 2007 contender Whitehead, is from the area in the district’s southeastern corner near Augusta; Fleming racked up local support and received the endorsement of the Augusta Chronicle. Fleming was the favorite of party insiders, as was Whitehead last year in his bid to succeed the late Charlie Norwood, his personal friend, who died in February 2007 after a long battle with lung cancer.
But Broun rebuffed charges that he is not conservative enough by pointing to a voting record since he entered the House last year that strongly aligned him with the majority of his Republican colleagues. Broun was backed by conservative groups and individuals including the Club for Growth, Georgia Right to Life and activist Paul Weyrich. Broun, who relied heavily on a one-sided advantage in his home base in the 2007 contest, made a priority of outreach to other areas of the district following his election. And Broun was not greatly outspent this time, as he was in his 2007 contest.
The impact of his strengthened position was evident in the outcome. After defeating Whitehead by a margin of less than 1 percentage point, Broun was cruising to a victory margin of 40 percent this time.
Broun now will be heavily favored to win re-election this November in a district that went 65 percent for President Bush in 2004. He will run against Democrat Bobby Saxon, an Iraq War veteran who faced no primary opposition. CQ Politics rates Broun’s general election race as Safe Republican.
The contest in the 12th District, which neighbors the 10th to the south, was watched to see whether racial politics would play a major role. Barrow, one of the dwindled group of white Southern Democrats in Congress and a lawmaker of center-right proclivities, was challenged by state Sen. Regina Thomas, an African-American candidate who argued that Barrow was a poor fit for a district in which blacks make up 45 percent of the population (based on the 2000 census).
Yet Thomas proved a mild challenge for Barrow, who had 76 percent of the vote with 92 percent of precincts reported. Though Thomas entered the contest with her own political base in Savannah at the southern end of 12th District, analysts said there were few signs Thomas had attracted the support necessary to wage a competitive campaign. She entered the contest late and raised just $26,000 to more than $1.7 million that Barrow collected for his treasury.
Thomas’ contention that Barrow is not a true Democrat was undermined by the endorsement the incumbent received from Illinois Sen. Barack Obama , the presumed Democratic presidential nominee and contender to become the nation’s first African-American president. Barrow had endorsed Obama — one of the few members of the Blue Dog Coalition of conservative-leaning congressional Democrats to do so — during his campaign for the nomination against New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton .
The easy primary victory may give Barrow a boost, but the politically competitive nature of the district will likely put him in another tough fight this fall. He won a second term in 2006 by just 864 votes — the smallest margin for any Democratic incumbent seeking re-election — over former Republican Rep. Max Burns. The district favored Democrat John Kerry for president in 2004, but by less than 1 percentage point over Bush.
Barrow’s Republican opponent is John Stone, a former longtime congressional aide, who defeated two primary opponents Tuesday with 57 percent of the vote and most precincts reporting. CQ Politics rates his race Leans Democrat.
House Incumbents Easily Hold That Line in Georgia Primaries
In the Atlanta-based 5th District, Lewis’ lead with nearly 70 percent of the vote would certainly qualify as comfortable. But after years of easy campaigns, many of them without opposition in either party, the fact that he drew opposition at all — from Markel Hutchins, a business consultant and ordained minister, and state Rep. “Able” Mable Thomas — was seen as a sign of changing times, with younger-generation black candidates showing less deference to incumbents associated with the civil rights era.
Apart from the presidential race, the key statewide contest will be the Senate election. But Georgia’s recent strong overall Republican leanings, which bolster Chambliss’ appearance as a solid favorite for re-election, and the expectation that the five-candidate Democratic primary would almost certain require an Aug. 5 runoff, made the campaign somewhat low key.
The runoff prediction appeared correct. With 90 percent of precincts reporting, DeKalb County Chief Executive Officer Vernon Jones led with 40 percent of the vote, and former state Rep. Jim Martin had second place in hand with 35 percent. The two men will square off in the runoff.
Of the other contenders, former Atlanta television reporter Dale Cardwell was the only one in double figures with 16 percent. Businessman Josh Lanier and environmental engineer Rand Knight split the remainder of the vote.
Jones, who is black, has a strong base in his suburban Atlanta home county, and analysts say he has the potential to draw support from the state’s substantial black constituency (more than a quarter of the total population) should he reach the general election.
But Jones positions himself as a conservative Democrat and received some blowback from members of his party after he admitted to voting twice for Bush’s Republican presidential bids. Some Democrats also argue he is not the ideal candidate to go up against Chambliss this fall, because they say he carries baggage that may hamper his chances. He was accused of rape in 2004, and though the charges were dropped at the accuser’s request, his critics continue to tie him to the incident.
Martin, who was the best-funded candidate in the primary, ran television ads that helped increase his political profile. He entered the contest with some degree of statewide name recognition from a 2006 run for lieutenant governor.
Martin said after the primary Tuesday that he believes Democrats have sent a clear message to Republicans that their efforts have failed working Georgians. “Tonight we can join together to spread the good news that change is coming to Washington,” Martin said, according to Atlanta local NBC affiliate 11 Alive.
But Martin also faced some criticism from inside his party. Cardwell labeled Martin a “Convenientcrat” because he believed Martin only entered the race after party leaders pushed him to run.
Chambliss, who faced no primary opposition Tuesday, has been able to sit back and nurture a campaign treasury in which he had more than $4 million on hand as of June 25. CQ Politics rates his race Republican Favored.