Icons, it seems, are made for smashing. Or at least discarding.
Eight years after he became a GOP hero — especially in Georgia — for breaking ranks with his fellow Democrats and advocating a second term for President George W. Bush, Zell Miller stands an even chance of being deposed.
By the likes of Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain and Rick Santorum, no less.
The Republican race for the new 9th Congressional District in North Georgia, drawn to be the most conservative in the state, has become a blistering mountain-vs.-tea party affair.
The 80-year-old former Georgia governor and U.S. senator from Young Harris stands behind state Rep. Doug Collins of Gainesville. “I felt I had a mountain relationship with him,” Miller said.
But that quartet of cable TV veterans, all popular preachers on the tea party circuit, has endorsed Martha Zoller, a former talk radio host in Gainesville. “Martha is running against the establishment, which, as we know, is an uphill battle,” Palin wrote in her endorsement.
Which means Zell Miller, the most revolutionary man at the 2004 Republican National Convention, has become something of a Tory to some Republicans.
Call this a tight race between North Georgia insularity and tea party-driven suspicion of anyone who lists a public office on his resume. Last week, out of 109,778 votes cast, only 738 ballots separated the front-runner Collins from Zoller.
Because the new district is presumed to be a Republican gain (though Democrat Jody Cooley awaits in November), money hasn’t been a major factor. No super PAC has emptied its wallet into the 9th. Zoller has raised at least $29,000 since the July 31 primary. Collins has raised at least $40,000 — including $5,000 from Miller and his wife, Shirley, and $1,000 from House Speaker David Ralston.
But given that the region is dominated largely by metro Atlanta television stations, an extensive TV campaign is cost-prohibitive for both camps — though both candidates have cut aggressive 30-second spots for their final pushes.
The cash-strapped nature of the fight has made endorsements, a natural topic for direct-mail and word-of-mouth campaigning, even more important.
Zoller’s stamps of approval are largely the result of a 15-year career in talk radio, with occasional bouts of commentary on CNN and Fox News. Years on the airwaves, and the connections that result, have made Zoller competitive in a race that would normally be an easy win for the candidate who is backed by the House speaker — and who acted as a floor leader for a sitting governor.
Gingrich and Santorum are unlikely to appear by Zoller’s side before the runoff. The Zoller campaign has hopes that Cain and Palin might. Of the pair, Palin is clearly the bigger fish — although the former Alaskan governor’s four-candidate winning streak of endorsements ended Tuesday when state Treasurer Sarah Steelman placed third in Missouri’s Republican primary for the U.S. Senate.
On Aug. 21, Zoller becomes the next Palin candidate up for voter inspection.
The Zoller campaign has attempted to turn her opponent’s past as a state lawmaker into a liability — most recently pointing to his vote to place transportation sales tax referendums on Georgia ballots.
“Would someone who is ‘for the people’ of north Georgia have stuck us with a 300-percent local penalty because we would not listen to the Gold Domers and silently approve their T-SPLOST fiasco?” the Zoller campaign asks in one email blast.
Collins has also engaged in jujitsu, attempting to besmirch Zoller’s high-ranking endorsements. “We saw her Obama-style campaign strategy of celebrity over substance during the primary,” Collins declared. “I’m here to tell her she can’t hide behind her big-name friends.”
Clearly, Collins is attempting to tap that historic mountain antipathy toward pushy strangers. “It’s a way of life. It’s a personality. Mountain people are very conservative, but they don’t like people coming here to tell them how to vote,” said Bryan Miller, Collins’ campaign manager — and Zell Miller’s grandson.
Zell Miller, though somewhat subdued by a three-year bout of ill health, has recorded robo-call messages for Collins — as Palin has for Zoller. He’ll step up his role, if possible, over the next 12 days, Bryan Miller said.
But the former Georgia governor isn’t the only Republican-feted institution under siege in this contest.
The Collins campaign has, in a way, taken aim at talk radio itself. “For years, Martha Zoller has talked while you could only cringe,” Collins’ most recent TV ad declares.
The overwhelming visual is of a woman’s lipsticked mouth at a microphone — while a narrator wonders at Zoller’s alleged apostasy on topics from marijuana to civil unions to the simple, terrible admission that President Barack Obama might be a nice guy.
“At the end of the day, we don’t care what they say about talk radio or about Martha’s endorsements,” Zoller spokesman Ryan Mahoney said. “The people are very clear that they’re sick of the establishment and they want someone new in Washington that’s going to shake things up.”
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider