GOP Fights to Take Back Two Georgia Seats

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Despite Republican claims that the election is getting closer, Democrats are expected to make gains in the House of Representatives. There are only a few seats now held by Democrats that Republicans hope to win. Two of them are in Georgia, where President Bush campaigns Monday and Tuesday.

JOHN YDSTIE, host:

Despite Republican claims that the election is getting closer, Democrats are expected to make gains in the House of Representatives. Republicans are playing defense in nearly all the competitive races, trying to hold onto seats they already have. There are only a few seats now held by Democrats that Republicans hope to win. Two of them are in Georgia, where President Bush campaigns today and tomorrow.

NPR's Brian Naylor traveled to Georgia and has this report.

BRIAN NAYLOR: Max Burns steps off his campaign bus, which has pulled up outside the steps of the red brick courthouse in Sparta, Georgia.

(Soundbite of crowd noise)

Unidentified Man: I'm glad you're here.

NAYLOR: Burns is a former one-term congressman who is in a rematch against the Democrat who beat him two years ago, John Barrow. Burns has been on a weeklong tour of the mostly rural 12th District in eastern Georgia. He tells a small group of supporters that President Bush will be returning to the district to campaign for him.

Mr. MAX BURNS (Republican Candidate for Congress, Georgia): The president of the United States is going to come twice inside of two months. And that just kind of tells you how important the race is, how competitive the race is...

NAYLOR: In an interview, Burns said he is well aware of what's at stake.

Mr. BURNS: You know, this is a key race. This is one of the key races in the nation. We don't have, as Republicans, too many opportunities to pick up seats, and we need those seats. This is a conservative area of our state. It's a conservative district. It's rural. My roots are here. I have very deep roots in southeast Georgia (unintelligible).

NAYLOR: Republicans have done all they can to assist Burns and the other Republican former congressmen trying to make a comeback: Mac Collins, who is running in the adjacent 8th District. In addition to the president's visits, the GOP-controlled state legislature redrew the lines to include more Republican voters in both districts.

For his part, Democrat Barrow has run ads touting an issue, tax reform, where he says he agrees with President Bush. In a debate last week, Barrow said bipartisanship should come before party.

Representative JOHN BARROW (Democrat, Georgia): Folks in this country are crying out for people who can demonstrate on the job that they are willing to work with folks on the other side of the island. That they're willing to cross the aisle, vote with folks on the other side, with the other team when they think the other team is more right than the team they happen to hang with.

NAYLOR: At a barbecue the other night over the 8th District in the tiny crossroads of Hillsborough, the talk is of bird-hunting and politics. Among the Republican candidates enjoying chicken and peach cobbler is Mac Collins, who gave up his seat two years ago to run for the Senate and now hopes to return to Congress.

Mr. MAC COLLINS (Republican Candidate, Georgia): Friends, this campaign is all about who is going to control the House of Representatives. That's how close the campaigns are across this country. You hear it everyday on the news.

NAYLOR: Collins says, though, Democratic incumbent Jim Marshall may seem in tune with rural Georgia, all that would change should Democrats win control of the House.

Mr. COLLINS: Jim has had an agenda to vote on that made it a lot easier for him to be able to be a moderate as such. Now he would not have that agenda with the Democrats in control and Ms. Pelosi as speaker.

NAYLOR: Not so, says Marshall.

Representative JIM MARSHALL (Democrat, Georgia): I've spent more time on television in my opponent's ads with Nancy Pelosi and Ted Kennedy and Cynthia McKinney than I'm ever likely to spend in reality.

NAYLOR: On this day, Marshall is performing some constituent service, meeting with David Owens, the administrator of a 12-bed hospital in tiny Monticello, Georgia, who's pleading with Marshall for some federal funds.

Representative MARSHALL: And we need a new building something terrible; we'd name it the Jim Marshall Memorial Hospital.

(Soundbite of laughter))

NAYLOR: Marshall says the national GOP's interest in winning his seat has made the campaign much more expensive than he anticipated.

Representative MARSHALL: Realistically, I thought this was going to be around $1 million campaign. And frankly, we're heading - I think we're going to pass $2 million. It's really remarkable how much this has cost.

NAYLOR: But Marshall, like his democratic colleague Barrow, believes that his willingness to work with Republicans appeals to moderate and independent voters, who along with his base of democratic support will ensure his return to Congress.

NAYLOR: Brian Naylor, NPR News.

YDSTIE: Find out how which key House races could swing control of the House and get projections on who looks likely to win in each at npr.org.

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