Palin Campaigns For Incumbent In Ga. Senate Runoff

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin urged Republicans in Georgia to turn out and vote for incumbent Sen. Saxby Chambliss in Tuesday's runoff election. Chambliss is facing Democrat Jim Martin. Neither candidate was able to garner 50 percent of the vote in last month's election.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

In Georgia, it's a battle of the super surrogates. A crowd of political marquee names has been campaigning for the two candidates who are still vying for Georgia's Senate seat. The vote is tomorrow. On Election Day last month, neither Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss nor Democrat Jim Martin got a majority of votes, and in Georgia, that means a run-off. The Senate seat is one of two yet to be decided. The other is Minnesota's. NPR's Kathy Lohr reports on the last days of the Georgia run-off race.

KATHY LOHR: The Senate race has brought a virtual parade of politicians through Georgia in the past four weeks, topped off today by Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.

Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska): Georgia, the eyes of America are upon you. We all have Georgia on our minds. Great events will depend on the votes cast by the next senator from your great state, and all of this depends on you tomorrow.

LOHR: At this rally in Augusta, Palin said the Georgia vote will help decide the direction of the country. That's the same message many in the GOP have uttered, stressing the need to re-elect Saxby Chambliss as a firewall to protect America from a liberal agenda. Senator John McCain, who won the state by a five percent margin, stopped by last month to lend his support.

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona): Saxby Chambliss is doing what we Republicans should've done for eight years, and that's restrain spending.

(Soundbite of cheers)

LOHR: Others who've campaigned for Chambliss include former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, and former New York Mayor Rudolph Guiliani. On the Democratic side, former President Bill Clinton stumped for Jim Martin.

Former President BILL CLINTON: This country does not need to build a firewall against the future. It needs a bridge to the future, and Jim Martin is a bridge builder.

LOHR: Then came former Vice President Al Gore.

Former Vice President AL GORE: This run-off comes at a moment in out nation's history when America is poised on the threshold of significant change, at a time when we've never needed change more than we need it now.

(Soundbite of applause)

LOHR: Democrats are hoping for a 60-vote filibuster proof majority in the Senate, but the GOP is fearful of how that might affect the balance of power in Washington. In a radio ad, Michael Reagan, the son of the beloved Republican president, had this message.

(Soundbite of radio ad)

Mr. MICHAEL REAGAN: If the Democrat wins, Barack Obama will have complete control over the U.S. Senate and will put through a liberal agenda, including massive tax increases, citizenship for illegal aliens, new gun control, and pro-abortion laws. I have not doubt my father, Ronald Reagan, would vote for Saxby Chambliss.

LOHR: And while President-elect Barack Obama did not make a visit to Georgia himself, he did record this radio ad on behalf of the Democrat.

(Soundbite of radio ad)

President-elect BARACK OBAMA: Jim Martin is a man of his word, and I know he'll do anything he can in the Senate to help me change Washington and get America moving again. Please join me in supporting Jim Martin for the United States Senate on Tuesday, December 2nd.

LOHR: Chambliss was expected to win the November election easily, but political analysts say the failing economy and a hefty 30 percent African-American turnout helped the Democrat. Polls now show Chambliss ahead by a few points. Political scientist at Emory University, Merle Black, says all these surrogates are raising the visibility of the race, but that may not translate into votes.

Dr. MERLE BLACK (College of Political Science, Emory University): This is really about turnout right now. I think what's going to happen is that a lot of individuals who voted first time probably won't be motivated to come back and vote. And that's the real challenge.

LOHR: In the general election, a record 3.7 million Georgians voted in the Senate contest. Merle Black says perhaps only a bit more than half of those voters will return on Tuesday. Kathy Lohr, NPR News, Atlanta.

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