Note: This is Thursday’s print column, drawn in part from previous posts.
Tuesday’s lessons for Georgia aren’t exact.
We have no party-switcher like Pennsylvania’s elderly Arlen Specter, whose 30-year grip on a U.S. Senate seat slipped after he discovered that his inner child was a Democrat.
And Georgia Republicans will avoid an intra-party revolt like the one that afflicts Blanche Lincoln, the U.S. senator from Arkansas forced into a Democratic runoff by unhappy unions.
Kathy Cox, this state’s Republican school superintendent and its most vulnerable incumbent, pulled the ripcord Monday on a comfortable job in Washington, D.C. She will float to a graceful landing, away from a primary challenge and the summer anger of thousands of unemployed teachers.
But there are things to be learned:
Lesson No. 1: The victory of tea-party favorite Rand Paul over hand-picked GOP establishment choice Trey Grayson in the Kentucky race for U.S. Senate doesn’t bode well for former state Sen. Lee Hawkins of Gainesville.
In the special election to replace Nathan Deal in Congress, Hawkins faces a June 8 runoff with fellow Republican and former lawmaker Tom Graves of Ranger, who is backed by FreedomWorks, a financial backer of the tea party movement, and the conservative Washington group Club for Growth.
Hawkins in no way can be described as a hand-picked Republican, but the dentist is running as a more traditional Republican with strong business ties. Hawkins, who finished second to Graves, has three weeks to persuade the movement that he’s something more.
“His unique ability to have the inside insight into what has gone on in the health care system, as well as having that business perspective, is exactly what the tea party people are looking for,” said Kris Carroll, Hawkins’ political director, on Wednesday.
Graves has been endorsed by U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland of Coweta, who is one of the lead recruiters for Republicans in Congress.
Paul’s victory in Kentucky adds this finger to the scale: If one were a Georgia Republican and looking at a close contest for governor in November, one might not want to see a tea party champion defeated, and supporters demoralized, so early in the season.
Lesson No. 2: Perhaps the happiest man in Georgia on Wednesday morning was Rob Woodall, former chief of staff to U.S. Rep. John Linder and now a Republican candidate to replace his former boss. With anti-incumbent fever a plague on both parties, many have cast doubt on the possibility that such a transition was possible.
But Pennsylvania’s 12th District congressional race contradicted that assumption on Tuesday, with voters electing Mark Critz, former aide to the late Democratic congressman John Murtha, over Republican businessman Tim Burns.
The collapse in conventional wisdom comes just in time. Woodall has a Saturday afternoon fund-raiser that features Linder.
Lesson No. 3: The same western Pennsylvania contest, in a district that went (barely) for Republican John McCain in 2008, may also give hope to Georgia Democrats — who walk a tightrope when it comes to President Barack Obama.
Republicans poured more than $1 million into the contest to replace the late Democratic congressman John Murtha, trying to break a Democratic streak of six special election victories.
It didn’t work — prompting House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Wednesday to call for better Republican organization and more money.
In Georgia, Democrats running statewide face a dilemma: Stray too far from Obama, and a candidate risks alienating black voters who dominate the primary. Hew too closely to the president, and white independents essential to a November victory drift away.
But in the Pennsylvania 12th, Critz may have strewn some bread crumbs to follow.
He criticized Obama’s new health care law, spoke up for gun rights and against abortion rights. His Republican opponent ran against Obama, while Critz focused on the issue of jobs.
“The challenge for Democrats is to move a little to the right,” said Dean Debnam, CEO of Public Policy Polling in North Carolina, which has polled in both Georgia and Pennsylvania.
Republicans make the task easier, Debnam said, by forcing out traditional, centrist Republicans. “In a strange way, the tea party movement is a positive movement for the Democratic party,” he said.
Lesson No. 4: You’re more likely to see Bill Clinton in Georgia this summer than Barack Obama.
“What no one is talking about is [that] the African-American population is turning out at below their historical lows,” Debnam said. “Instead of giving a bump that went forward with Obama, they’ve now dropped below what they normally turn out.”
The former president played a crucial role by campaigning through the Pennsylvania 12th District in the final 72 hours of the campaign with a simple message.
“People ask me all the time. What do you want your legacy to be? What do you want on your tombstone?” he told a Johnstown crowd on Sunday. “All that matters is, are people better off when you quit than when you started.”
And a final, non-lesson: In the Arkansas race for U.S. Senate, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter was able to push Lincoln into a 21-day runoff — largely on the strength of unions disappointed in Lincoln’s opposition to health care reform.
Do not expect the same pressure to be applied to two Democratic blue dogs in Georgia — U.S. Reps. John Barrow of Savannah and Jim Marshall of Macon. Lincoln’s disagreements with organized labor go far deeper than health care, we’re told.
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