Two Georgia Congressional Districts showing potential for GOP pickups

Jeff Emanuel
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Posted: Oct 31, 2006 9:11 AM
Two Georgia Congressional Districts showing potential for GOP pickups

Two of the GOP’s best chances for pickups in the House of Representatives this year are in Georgia, where two former Congressmen are embattled in races which are poised to go down to the wire.

In Georgia’s 12th Congressional District, where Max Burns is challenging incumbent Democrat Representative John Barrow, the most recent poll showed the candidates in a statistical dead heat with a week to go in the campaign.

This latest poll, conducted by Insider Advantage, shows Barrow with a three-point edge over Burns at 42% to 39%, a lead well within the 6-point margin of error. The telephone survey reached 310 likely voters, 19% of whom said that they were still undecided.

The newly-redrawn 12th district, which includes 22 counties in eastern Georgia – but no longer counts Athens-Clarke County, home of the University of Georgia and one of the bluest areas in the state, as a part, having replaced it with several more conservative, rural counties – should demographically favor Burns, who lost his seat to Barrow in 2004.

A spokesman for Barrow said that they had “always expected a close race,” and Burns’s campaign manager, calling the matchup “one of the most competitive races in the nation,” confirmed what we all knew -- that voter turnout, and Republican get out the vote efforts, would make or break the election for each candidate.

The polling data showing that Burns is in striking distance of Barrow was backed up by action on Monday, when President Bush made his second trip of the election season to Savannah to campaign for Burns -- something hardly ever done for Congressional candidates, and much less lost causes.

Another race Bush is hoping to influence with his second campaign visit to Georgia in as many months is the contest for GA-8, which pits former Congressman Mac Collins against Democrat incumbent Jim Marshall.

Marshall, a fairly conservative Democrat and Army veteran – both beneficial attributes, as his district includes Warner Robins Air Base – has led Collins from the beginning in polls, and until recently appeared poised to win reelection going away. However, the race has been tightening of late, to the point where Marshall’s campaign has felt the need to release internal polling to combat wide-ranging speculation that their months-long lead was shrinking – or even that the Democrat was trailing.

Word recently leaked out, via the Georgia political weblog Peach Pundit, that some internal polling showed Collins up by one point in the race; shortly after this was made public, Marshall’s campaign released an internal poll showing a comfortable double-digit lead. Saying he released the poll to “combat the notion that the congressional race is growing close when it is not,” Marshall’s campaign manager added, “We're in good shape here. We're in a good situation. I wanted people to get a sense of where this race really is. … It's a good, good poll."

As good a situation as the Marshall campaign may want supporters – and potential Collins voters – to believe that it is in, the release of an internal poll speaks to just the opposite situation. As one campaign consultant put it, internal polls have traditionally been just that – internal – and have primarily been released to provide reassurance to supporters, or for the very short-term gain of generating favorable headlines with little or no effort.

The making public of what the Macon Telegraph, in its report on the release, called “data that aides would normally keep secret and use for their own strategic planning” shows that the campaign is far more worried than they wish to let on – a fact backed up by the President’s second visit to the district, which would not be happening were Collins trailing by as large a margin as Marshall is claiming.

These events combine reinforce the impression that Marshall’s campaign is struggling mightily as Election Day approaches, and that Collins is surging toward the finish – a situation which is only temporarily remedied by the favorable headlines the publicizing of such a poll creates.

The real aim of such a release is likely to help accomplish what will be necessary across the board for Democrats to be successful next Tuesday – to keep Republican voters at home. If headlines which show Republicans trailing by a significant margin in their respective races discourage voters to such a degree that they decide not to cast their ballots this year, then the conservative cause is almost certainly lost this cycle, and the newfound momentum of these two candidates, as well as Republicans throughout the nation, will sputter and ultimately die in an Election Day defeat.

However, Republican voters should not despair, but rather should take heart at such developments as the release of internal polling, and of third-party polling which shows their candidate making steadily increasing gains, as well as, in these specific cases, the decision by the President of the United States to make a second trip to their districts in an effort to buck up voters’ spirits. Regarding the latter, there are, as we all know, hundreds of House races winding up right now, and one-third of Senators (and their challengers) are also currently working toward a strong finish to their campaigns. Were these two Georgia races unwinnable – or even out of the reach of a strong campaign finish – then President Bush would certainly be elsewhere, propping up candidates who were more likely of winning.

The fact that he is in Georgia instead of elsewhere – and that there are campaigns for Democrat-held seats which are close enough that he would be there at all – should give hope to Republican voters not only in the state’s 8th and 12th Congressional Districts, but throughout the nation, that, far from the landslide defeat predicted for the GOP by so many for so long, seats could actually be gained to offset those which will be lost this Tuesday. All the voters have to do to make this a reality is to see through the smokescreen of the overly optimistic opposition internal polls, ignore the media’s doom-and-gloom prognostications – and refuse to stay home, instead going to the polls this Tuesday and casting their votes. Success is possible in this election, but the voters must decide that they really do want to succeed in order for it to become a reality.