Tuesday’s lessons for Georgia for Republicans — and Democrats

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul and his family during his victory rally in Bowling Green, Ky., on  Tuesday. AP/Ed Reinke

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul and his family during his victory rally in Bowling Green, Ky., on Tuesday. AP/Ed Reinke

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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16 comments Add your comment

John Konop

May 19th, 2010
7:01 pm

Kentucky primary reveals GOP rift on Afghan war

…The other difference is on national defense.

Paul says invading Iraq was the wrong thing to do, and while he supported the attack on Afghanistan, he expresses reservations about President Obama’s mission for U.S. forces there and speaks about the need to scale back overseas commitments.

Grayson, meanwhile, defends the Iraq invasion and argues for a long-term commitment to Afghanistan as part of “keeping America on the offensive” in the war on terrorism.

Grayson hammered Paul on the difference with some nasty ads, suggesting that Paul had blamed America for the Sept. 11 attacks because he had argued that previous American policies had helped galvanize Islamists.

The Grayson strategy was to tie Paul to the “truther” movement that holds that Sept. 11 was an act of mass murder perpetrated by the Bush administration.

That’s how Grayson won the backing of former Vice President Cheney and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who bashed Paul just as he had derided Paul’s father in the 2008 Republican primaries.

Pundits expected Paul’s insurgent candidacy to fizzle

But Paul hit back hard. His response ad used images from the Sept. 11 attacks and said “fighting back was the right thing to do.” He then spoke directly to Grayson, saying “your shameful TV ad is a lie, and it dishonors you.”

His message on the stump was that he wanted America have the most powerful military in the world as a deterrent to our enemies, not to be a policeman or a community organizer to failed nations…..


[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

The time is near

May 19th, 2010
8:15 pm

If you have an “I” beside your name in November,you will be gone in January.The report today about the oil companies giving funds to congressman over the last year,shows where they will cast their vote. Look at the Georgia delegation and what they got in contributions.

Just Nasty & Mean

May 19th, 2010
10:36 pm

TW–wait just a damn minute! The democRats take MORE campaign money from Wall Street, Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac, big banking, the military industrial complex, Insurance AND OIL than Republicans.

So…stop acting like a classic democRat loon and spouting off facts you can’t support. :-(

The Cynical White Boy

May 20th, 2010
12:27 am

I guess the lesson here is, if you are a Georgia Repub, run an ad daring Ob-blah-blah or “Plugs” Biden to come on down and campaign against you.

However, if you are a Georgia Dem, run an ad touting how “independent” you are and how you “answer to Georgia and not to Washington”.

Easy either way. As long as folks in Georgia don’t ever wake up and realize that all of this incumbent turnover bidness really favors the lobbyists in the end.

[...] Galloway, the Political Insider with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, has a great read in which he takes a look at several parallels between Tuesday’s various primary and special elections [...]


May 20th, 2010
6:05 am

The end is near !!! I actually agree with “The Cynical White Boy !!! ” Face it people… no matter the color, party afffiliation, or age A POLITICIAN IS A POLITICIAN , and HONEST politician is an OXYMORON !!!

John Konop

May 20th, 2010
7:44 am

On many issue I agree with Libertarians/Tea Party candidate Rand Paul, but this is an example when they go to far!

Rand Paul On ‘Maddow’ Defends Criticism Of Civil Rights Act, Says He Would Have Worked To Change Bill

…Maddow: Do you think that a private business has a right to say that ‘We don’t serve black people?’

Paul: I’m not in favor of any discrimination of any form. I would never belong to any club that excluded anybody for race. We still do have private clubs in America that can discriminate based on race. Butdo discriminate.

But I think what’s important in this debate is not getting into any specific “gotcha” on this, but asking the question ‘What about freedom of speech?’ Should we limit speech from people we find abhorrent. Should we limit racists from speaking. I don’t want to be associated with those people, but I also don’t want to limit their speech in any way in the sense that we tolerate boorish and uncivilized behavior because that’s one of the things that freedom requires is that

we allow people to be boorish and uncivilized, but that doesn’t mean we approve of it…

Paul argued that Maddow’s questions weren’t practical, but were instead abstract. She asked Paul to tell that to protesters who were beaten in their struggle for equal rights:

Maddow:… Howabout desegregating lunch counters?

Paul: Well what it gets into then is if you decide that restaurants are publicly owned and not privately owned, then do you say that you should have the right to bring your gun into a restaurant even though the owner of the restaurant says ‘well no, we don’t want to have guns in here’ the bar says ‘we don’t want to have guns in here because people might drink and start fighting and shoot each-other.’ Does the owner of the restaurant own his restaurant? Or does the government own his restaurant? These are important philosophical debates but not a very practical discussion..

Maddow: Well, it was pretty practical to the people who had the life nearly beaten out of them trying to desegregate Walgreen’s lunch counters despite these esoteric debates about what it means about ownership. This is not a hypothetical Dr. Paul……



May 20th, 2010
8:34 am

Curiously, in a supposed anti-incumbent year, most of the departing are not retiring but seeking higher office. We may recycle more than we replace. The bad news is that a frustrating 114 seats still have but one contestant. Two of them aren’t even incumbents, meaning they will affect state policy without being vetted by voters. And I have to think that we’d be better off if many had run instead for the Legislature — and cut down on the number running unopposed. Georgia’s problems are numerous. They aren’t going away. There’s too much stale thinking at the Capitol, on both sides of the aisle. New voices would be welcome.


May 20th, 2010
9:10 am

Paul may have committed a mortal sin in calling for the repeal of civil rights legislation. Now what position will the Tea Party take on that issue? So far they have tried to remain non-committal.


May 20th, 2010
9:12 am

Yea but Georgia still doesn’t have a decent candidate for governor, Republican or Democrat.


May 20th, 2010
9:18 am

I would really like to see these new T idiots get elected. Then America will really go down the tubes from the moronic ideas these folks have.


May 20th, 2010
3:48 pm

Lee Hawkins may not be the Tea Party celebrity in Washington or Atlanta, but the folks in here in the 9th District know him and know that he supports the movement here at home. And the Westmoreland endorsement, as a fellow client of lobbying firm Capitol Strategy Group, is not what it is made out to be.

Things look much different below the surface.

Bobby Anthony

May 20th, 2010
7:16 pm

Poythress is a decent candidate.


May 21st, 2010
12:20 am

Goodbye Sanford…………….

Viva Arizona

May 21st, 2010
10:21 am

Give California to all illegal immigrants and ALL other United States haters. California already is the State of fruits, flakes & nuts. I would say to each and everyone, good bye and good ridence.