With Democrats one closer to 60 in the Senate, the runoff between Republican Saxby Chambliss and Democrat Jim Martin is shaping up to be the final showdown. And while the grassroots can’t flex much muscle in Minnesota, the race in Georgia could be a chance for Obama’s vaunted grassroots operation to prove its worth.
Colin Delany of e.politics.com thinks the expectation that Obama’s ground forces can march into a conservative state and hand Martin a win, especially in a race that wasn’t even on the radar screen a couple months ago, might be too much to ask.
“A fired-up group of people can have a disproportionate amount of weight, and I'd be shocked if Obama and every other prominent Democrat didn't reach out to their supporter lists and encourage Georgians to vote and everyone else to contribute,” says Delany. “That being said, the Republicans will also be focusing their nationwide resources on this race, so the outside effect may turn out to be a wash.”
Republican consultant Mark Rountree, who heads the Georgia-based political firm Landmark Communications, sees significantly more out-of-state interest than in for the December 2 runoff. Thousands of union volunteers and canvassers are descending on the state, as well foot soldiers from both national parties.
But he too cautions that Democratic activists shouldn’t get too confident. “This isn’t a runoff because of a bunch of liberal volunteers and bloggers,” he notes.
On Election night, Sen. Chambliss was just shy of the majority he needed to avoid a runoff. He won 49.8 percent of the vote to Democrat Jim Martin’s 46.8 percent. Libertarian Allen Buckley siphoned off just over 3 percent of the vote—likely preventing Chambliss from reaching a majority.
“[Buckley voters] aren’t going to come out and vote for Martin now,” says Rountree. “The question is whether or not they will come out for Chambliss.”
Chambliss has irked conservatives, particularly with his vote for the $700 billion bailout package, which he has been unrepentant about.
“Republicans have to decide whether the fear of 60 [Democrats in the senate] is worse than Chambliss not apologizing,” says Rountree.
Darren Katz, who heads the Georgia-based political and grassroots consulting firm the Edison Group, has a different take. With an electorate exhausted by more than two full years of presidential politics, Katz doesn’t think issues will make much difference.
“Surrogates are really key in this race because at this point you aren’t convincing anyone,” he says. “You’re trying to drive up turnout and excite the base. And Martin will win or lose with African American turnout.”
Former president Bill Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore have already campaigned with Martin. On the Republican side, John McCain, Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney have stumped with Chambliss. The big question is whether President-elect Obama will head to the state before December. He has already recorded an ad for Martin and sent several operatives to the state.
“I think it'd be misguided to try to read too much into a single runoff election in a state not friendly to Democrats in statewide office,” says Colin Delany. “The real test of Obama's list will be if he tries to use it to influence legislators across the country into supporting his legislative agenda, and of course again when Congress members are next up for reelection in 2010.”