Some Republican candidates were able to ride the Governor’s wave into open offices, as well. State Senator Casey Cagle, for example, who handily defeated Abramoff scandal-tainted former Christian Coalition frontman Ralph Reed in a heated primary election, became the state’s first GOP Lieutenant Governor since Reconstruction. Likewise, Karen Handel, former chairman of the Fulton County Commission (the largest county in Georgia, and home to Atlanta), handily defeated her Democratic opponent to become Secretary of State.
Voter approval was not limited to Republicans, though, as every Democrat running for reelection to statewide office was successful in his or her respective bid, as well. 37-year incumbent Tommy Irvin fought off a stern challenge from Republican nominee Gary Black to remain the state’s Commissioner of Agriculture, and Congressmen Jim Marshall of the 8th District and John Barrow of the 12th eked out victories over GOP challengers Mac Collins and Max Burns by fewer than 2,000 votes each.
The resounding victory won by Governor Perdue, coupled with the victory of Democratic incumbents like Irvin, Marshall, Attorney General Thurbert Baker, and others, showed that, unlike voters elsewhere in the country, Georgians were very satisfied with the direction of their state, as well as with their own representatives in government.
While Republicans managed to take races in which the incumbent was not running for reelection, the victory by Democratic officeholders showed that, to Georgia voters, Party affiliation was secondary in importance – but that, given a choice and an open seat, the GOP is still the party of choice in the Peach state.
Lessons can be learned from this rare GOP electoral success. The victory in Georgia demonstrated that governing as advertised, and running on actual achievements and realistic proposals, can be a recipe for success. The national election, by contrast, revealed that running as conservatives, and governing as moderates or liberals, is not – and neither is running on a platform whose sole plank is “the other side is worse,” as the Democratic Party found out through their losses in 2002 and 2004.
On both levels, the voters have spoken loudly and clearly. Georgians believe that the state is largely headed in the right direction and, while not willing to rock the boat by throwing Democrats out of office, they are trusting Republicans with more and more responsibility.
On the national level, America has taken the GOP by the collar and given it a good shake, while simultaneously giving the Democratic Party an opportunity to show what it can do in the majority. Where things go from here will depend on whether or not the Republican Party heeds the message it has so clearly been sent this week by the American people: return to the principles you once claimed to stand for, or face another 40 years in the wilderness.
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