Rural Election Watch: Georgia Senate

By Sean Reagan

Perhaps one of the best tests of just how long and broad Barack Obama’s coattails will prove to be is in Georgia, where incumbent Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss can’t quite put away Democratic challenger Jim Martin.

Most October polls have Chambliss up a few points on Martin (one projects a tie; Rasmussen gives Chambliss a six point lead), but this was never a race intended to be close. That Martin continues to run neck-and-neck is in and of itself testimony to a) a shifting political landscape and b) the generally poor outlook for Republicans this year. Meanwhile, Obama only trails McCain in the state between three and nine points. Remember, Obama consistently exceeded polling expectations in the South during the primaries. If he follows that trend in the general, the rising tide may life Martin as well.

Democrats have the luxury of invading traditionally Republican parts of the country because they enjoy a massive fundraising advantage and the GOP’s brand has been further weakened by public perceptions that the economy is slumping.

Democratic nominee Barack Obama’s surge in the polls and the likelihood that he’ll turn out record numbers of African-American voters in Georgia, Mississippi and North Carolina, has buoyed Democrats hopes. Black voters usually vote overwhelmingly in favor of Democratic candidates.

Certainly, one can hope. Chambliss took out Max Cleland in 2002, painting the triple amputee and Viet Nam veteran as soft on national security. His was a campaign long on slime and short on substance. And in that regard, it perfectly forecast his performance in the Senate. He’s done little but carry the water buckets for Bush/Cheney.

Consider: he voted against transferring $11 billion from corporate tax loopholes to education, against tax incentives for energy production and conservation, against adding between two and four million children to SCHIP eligibility. And that’s just a taste.

Chambliss isn’t exactly running an honorable campaign this time around, either. His latest ad alleges that Congressional Dems – and by extension, Martin – ”blocked every effort to regulate subprime lenders.” But as Matt Yglesias points out, the ad is patently false.

Martin may be the guy – and this may be the season – when Chambliss sees his political career flushed. Consider:

With little money, but with a lot of gumption, energy, and a truly progressive message, Jim Martin has closed to a dead-heat in this race. He is pro-choice, pro-gay rights (supports ENDA and LLEA), a consumer advocate, committed civil libertarian (with ACLU awards for his efforts), opposes FISA telecom immunity, opposes the war in Iraq, is a strong environmentalist, a strong labor guy, a strong supporter of affirmative action, and so on. He is also a Vietnam vet, so perhaps he’s destined for a Chambliss Special, but we can get his back. This is the kind of Democrat we can’t even get in some Blue states, yet running on an explicitly progressive agenda, has a chance to represent the great state of Georgia while ousting the odious Chambliss at the same time.

Yeah, the odds are still pretty long and Chambliss is the kind of down-and-dirty fighter that you can never underestimate, but who would have thought we’d be here in late October, talking about Jim Martin taking out Chambliss?

But here we are. And in a few weeks, it’s entirely possible we might just be talking about Senator-elect Martin.

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