Election has Georgia Democrat Straddling the Middle If Democrats are to make gains in November, their first order of business is protecting vulnerable incumbents like Jim Marshall. His Macon-based district in central Georgia leans Republican.
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Election has Georgia Democrat Straddling the Middle

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Election has Georgia Democrat Straddling the Middle

Election has Georgia Democrat Straddling the Middle

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

As eager as Democrats may be to gain seats in Congress this fall, some of their own members are considered vulnerable. And one of those is Jim Marshall, a Democratic Congressman from Georgia. His district leans Republican, which puts Marshall in a tough spot. Here's NPR's Luke Burbank.

LUKE BURBANK: If you're going to interview a Georgia Congressman, there's really only one place to do it, and that would be in a rocking chair on the porch of his Civil War-era mansion.

JIM MARSHALL: It's pretty warm right now. The temperature must be about 96 degrees. We're in the shade. There's a slight breeze. You know, you can see from the shrubbery and the trees and the flowers that it's a pretty nice place to be.

BURBANK: Unidentified Man: Jim Marshall's office.

(SOUNDBITE OF TELEPHONE RINGING)

BURBANK: Georgia's Eighth District is a narrow slip, stretching from the Atlanta suburbs south, to nearly the Florida border. The district's boundaries changed in 2006, a move by state Republicans to add more GOP voters. That leaves Marshall, a Democrat, in the minority.

MARSHALL: The district is a little bit more Republican. I feel pretty good about the race. This district doesn't drift off to the left or drift off to the radical right like some other districts do in this country.

BURBANK: Marshall's part of a vanishing breed, traditional southern Democrats: socially conservative, pro-military politicians who happen to have a D after their name.

MARSHALL: If the Republican Party seems right on an issue, I'll vote with it. If the Democratic Party seems right, I'll vote with it...

BURBANK: The program of this year's Congressional baseball game listed Marshall as a switch voter. Still, any Democrat, even one as conservative as Marshall, faces some image problems these days in a region like middle Georgia, so says Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia.

CHARLES BULLOCK: The Republicans are going to, sooner or later, run an ad that just says, you know, you are too liberal for Georgia; and if they've got, then, evidence of you having (unintelligible) with Ted Kennedy or Hillary Clinton or Nancy Pelosi, that simply confirms the charges against you.

BURBANK: Names like Pelosi, Clinton and Kennedy might as well be four-letter words in some parts of Georgia's Eighth district. So, understandably, Marshall isn't exactly dying to have his picture taken with any of his party's stars. In fact, he sounds almost hostile when talking about the leadership of both parties.

MARSHALL: The two sides, particularly the leadership on both sides, are very, very far apart. Neither is conservative; both are pretty radical. They've got ideas that don't really fit what mainstream America, what middle America, what America needs.

EDDIE WIGGINS: I tell everybody I was the youngest Chevrolet dealer in the state of Georgia - 26 years old. I was the youngest one to go broke at 29, so I've been the whole gamut.

BURBANK: Eddie Wiggins sits in his office at Eddie Wiggins Pontiac-Buick-GMC in Warner Robins, Georgia. Like most voters you talk to here in the Eighth District, he's got two big concerns: first, the wellbeing of Warner Robins Air Force Base, which drives most of the economy around here; and second, immigration.

WIGGINS: If you want to be one of our own, you need to be one of us. We all ought to be in the same pot. We shouldn't burn a flag, we shouldn't burn money, you know. You ought to love God and America and apple pie and act like Americans; that's what Americans do.

BURBANK: Luke Burbank, NPR News, Macon.

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