Southern opportunities

Eliot Peace
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Posted: Apr 26, 2006 12:06 AM

Despite all of the bad news over the last several months, and the talk of a 1994-like sweep of the US House of Representatives by the Democratic Party, not all news is bad news for Republicans.

First and foremost, the Democratic Party has yet to present a united front and viable alternative to the GOP. Several Democratic congressmen, including William Jefferson of Louisiana and Alan Mollohan of West Virginia, are amidst their own ethics investigations, which helps to soften the impact of the 'culture of corruption' charges leveled at the Republican Party.

The Democratic Party’s own perceptions of corruption are not solely at fault. In addition to the gaff in the Ohio 6th (the Democrats’ number one candidate failed to qualify for the May 2nd primary), the Democrats have handed several gifts to Republicans in competitive Southern races.

North Carolina

8th District

Robin Hayes, who represents the 8th District in North Carolina, was first elected in 1998, and has always been a surefire supporter of traditional domestic industries in North Carolina, such as tobacco and textiles. However, his vote for the Central American Free Trade Agreement angered many unemployed textile workers—he voted for it after declaring himself "flat-out, completely, horizontally opposed"—and redistricting from the 2000 Census, which added a huge swath of Democratic urban Charlotte to the 8th, left him ripe for the picking. 

The Rothenberg Political Report, a non-partisan newsletter that covers federal races, listed the 8th District early on in this election cycle as a seat ripe for picking by the Democrats.

Unfortunately for the Democratic 'wave,' the most formidable general election candidate in the 8th District Democratic primary dropped out in late March, citing financial reasons. Timothy Dunn, a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps Reserves (yet another example of the 2006 Democratic 'mold'), told reporters that his law practice did not generate enough income to provide for his family, so he had to drop out of the congressional race in order to ‘provide for his family.'

Dunn had raised $80,000, more than his two Democratic opponents combined, but far short of the $800,000 raised by Hayes.

With the likely retention of the 8th for Republicans, the potential to net the 15 seats necessary to take the House for the Democrats is that much more difficult. 

Georgia

The continuing and unbelievable saga that is the life of Cynthia McKinney appears to have the potential to help Republican challengers Mac Collins and Max Burns, who are running for the 8th and 12th Districts, respectively.

Alan Abramowitz, a professor of political science at Emory University in Atlanta, said in an interview with The Hill, "I don’t think there’s any doubt that Republicans can use McKinney against the Democrats. They can hold her up as what’s wrong with the Democratic Party. I wouldn’t be surprised to see moderate candidates like John Barrow and Jim Marshall distancing themselves from her."

Will the Republicans try to use McKinney against the Democrats? Yes.

8th District

"Representative McKinney could be a much better representative for the people than her actions demonstrated last week," said Mac Collins, who is challenging 8th District Congressman Jim Marshall. "I believe she needs to apologize to the Congress, and to the people who reside in the 4th District of Georgia." 

Collins’ opponent, Congressman Jim Marshall, said, "Thinking an officer is racially motivated does not excuse hitting or pushing him." So, Marshall has not come to her defense either, but it remains to be seen if Collins can effectively associate Marshall with McKinney.

The Collins campaign, which was down in the polls a considerable amount only a few months ago, finds itself with new steam. Collins has raised $700,000 to take on Marshall thus far, who has raised over $1 million. President Bush recently headlined a state GOP fundraiser, which helped raise funds for both Collins and 12th District challenger Max Burns. 

12th District

Former Rep. Max Burns, who is challenging John Barrow in the 12th, also challenged his opponent to denounce Representative McKinney. Barrow has yet to distance himself from McKinney, even as members of the Democratic leadership — Nancy Pelosi no longer speaks to McKinney — have publicly rebuked her. 

Burns and Barrow also differ greatly over the major hot item of the day, immigration.  Barrow unveiled his plan for immigration to the Boston Globe, and Burns tried to make it an issue that Congressman Barrow unveiled his plan to a liberal, Northeast paper. The Burns plan included virtual amnesty for the 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States already. Burns opposed amnesty, instead opting for a guest-worker program to solve the illegal immigration problem. 

Barrow has also received some bad press in the Augusta Chronicle recently. Augusta is one of the two major metropolitan areas in the 12th District, and Barrow has been accused by many of only showing up in the area during campaign season. Some question where he has been over the last two years. 

However, the financial gap between Burns and Barrow is even greater than the one between Collins and Marshall. Burns has raised under $700,000, while Barrow has raised over $1 million. Also, the 12th District, despite redistricting, still leans towards the Democrats, with large parts of rural east Georgia, which is predominantly black. 

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Though the Democratic Party has found some traction in the 'culture of corruption' charge, its utility may be about exhausted. And for the Republicans, especially in Georgia, trying to associate Democratic incumbents with Democratic pariahs, such as McKinney probably has limited utility. Ultimately, congressional races usually come down to local politics and personal likeability factors, not associations. Trying to associate the opposition with a problem member will not work for Republicans, unless they unveil some policy proposals, and likewise for the Democrats. If both parties remain bereft of ideas, voters will stay home, which, for better or worse, favors the incumbents of both parties.