In Ga., GOP Sen. Chambliss Faces Tight Race

U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss and the Georgia GOP are battling not only a strong Democratic challenger, but also the vast voter-registration drive of the Obama campaign. Libertarian candidate Allen Buckley is taking some votes away from Chambliss and could force a runoff election if no one gets a majority of the vote.

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Now, another Republican senator in trouble, in Georgia earlier this year, the re-election of Republican Saxby Chambliss seemed to be a sure thing. But as the economy has faltered the race has tightened. Chambliss is facing Democrat Jim Martin, a former state representative, and national Democrats have been providing Martin with lots of attention and millions of dollars. From Atlanta, NPR's Kathy Lohr reports.

KATHY LOHR: Republican incumbent Senator Saxby Chambliss was way ahead in the polls until the last few weeks, when his double digit lead evaporated. According to some voters, challenger Jim Martin has the edge for one main reason.

Ms. REPONSEL MORRIS (Real State Agent): The economy. We got to get the economy moving. People have to have jobs. People have to feel secure.

LOHR: Repunsel Morris is a real state agent in Atlanta, and exactly the kind of voter Jim Martin is trying to reach. At rallies across the state this week including one in Lawrence Ville, the Democrats stressed his opposition to the Wall Street Bailout package, a plan has opponent voted for.

Mr. JIM MARTIN (Democrat, 2008 Senatorial Candidate,. Atlanta): Well, we got disaster. And $700 billion of our money, of our children's money and our grand children's money is at stake, and that's just not right.

(Soundbite of applause)

LOHR: Like Barack Obama, Martin promises to look out for the middle class.

Mr. MARTIN: And they see, nobody doing that in Washington. They certainly don't see Saxby Chambliss doing that. They see him as somebody who is basically been a rubber stamp for President Bush in his economic policies and they want that change.

LOHR: Another factor for Democrats, retribution. Many are still angry about the Senate campaign in Georgia six years ago against Max Cleland, a Vietnam veteran and triple amputee. Chambliss ran ads that attacked Cleland as unpatriotic and soft on national security. So, this year, the National Democrats have poured nearly $3 million into Georgia to pay for their own TV ads.

(Soundbite of political ad)

Unidentified Man: Once Saxby Chambliss is been up to win Washington supporting George Bush's economic policies every step of the way. They gave us higher food prices, a $10 trillion national debt and the $700 billion Wall Street Bailout.

LOHR: Chambliss is fighting back.

Senator SAXBY CHAMBLISS (Republican, Georgia): Thank you.

Unidentified Man #2: Good luck, sir.

Senator CHAMBLISS: Hi there. How you all there? I'm glad to see you buddy.

Unidentified Man #3: Thank you. Good to see you.

LOHR: At the campaign stop in Conyers, Georgia this week, Chambliss talked about the economic crisis, but also focused on the need for off shore drilling and the continued threat of terrorism. He told folks this year one of their most important jobs is to get out to vote.

Sen. CHAMBLISS: As you go around and talk to your friends, your colleagues you work with, you go to church with, you drink coffee with. Please tell them that we need them to vote for John McCain and for Saxby Chambliss. If by chance they are drinking something different that day and say they're not going to vote for John and me, tell him the election is November the eighth.

LOHR: Chambliss acknowledges the economic crisis will helped democrats, making this race even more important.

Sen. CHAMBLISS: The Democrats realize they're going to pick up seats and we're doing everything we can obviously to win. But for all the right reasons, one of the those reasons is that its imperative that we keep enough Senate seats in Republicans hands to make sure that we could stop bad legislation or help shape bad legislation into better legislation.

LOHR: As for the negative tone of the campaign, Chambliss blames his opponent. But the national Republicans have spent $1.4 million on their own attack ads.

(Soundbite of political ad)

Unidentified Man #3: Our economy is in crisis. Georgia families are losing their homes, their savings, their retirements, and while Jim Martin talks about the middle class. He voted to hit Georgia families with the largest tax increase in state history.

LOHR: All this ads have helped to make the race even more competitive. Political scientist at Emory University, Merrill Black, says the large number of newly registered black voters here will help the Democrat.

Mr. MERRILL BLACK (Political Scientist, Emory University): We're going to see the largest turn out among African-American voters in the history of Georgia. Maybe 30 percent or more of registered voters may be African Americans. By the time we get these final numbers, I think that's going to produce a straight ticket, a Democratic vote that's comes down to Jim Martin.

LOHR: There's also a Libertarian candidate in the race, Allen Buckley. He's not well-known but may provide another twist. If no candidate gets a majority of the vote, the race would go to a run off in December. And that would make Georgia, the focal point of both parties. Kathy Lohr, NPR News Atlanta.

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