Georgia is the setting for several high-profile congressional races this year. Normally, strong challengers wait for an open seat before throwing a hat in the ring, or they wait for a presidential election year and try to ride the coattails of their party's nominee.
In addition to Max Burns' campaign against 12th District incumbent John Barrow, former Congressman Mac Collins is challenging 8th District Congressman Jim Marshall.
Collins declined to run for reelection in an old seat in middle Georgia in 2004. Instead, he chose to take on Congressman Johnny Isakson in a race to replace retiring Senator Zell Miller. Isakson won. Collins was out of a job.
Yet, lo and behold, the Georgia General Assembly redistricted the Congressional districts. The Republican redistricting process placed Collins' home of Butts County (named for Captain Samuel Butts, a militiaman killed fighting the Creek Indians in the War of 1812 -- not the body part), as well as many of his former constituents into the newly redrawn 8th District with Representative Jim Marshall.
Both Marshall and Collins are successful men. Neither is a career politician. Before running for public office, they achieved significant success in their respective professions. Yet, their paths to Congress were vastly different.
Collins, a Jackson, GA native, never went to college. He started a concrete business after graduating high school and turned it into a ready-mix concrete company. Eventually, he started his own local trucking company. Collins Trucking Co. is operated today by Mac's two sons. After creating a successful business, Collins served in county-level government, as well as in the Georgia Senate before running for Congress.
Collins has a good record. He beat an incumbent Democrat before; Collins defeated 5-term Congressman Richard Ray to win his first election to Congress. During his twelve-year tenure, he helped balance the budget, supported the 1997 Welfare Reform, and voted to pass tax cuts for working families and small businesses.
Why has Collins decided to run for the 8th District? First, he said that his common sense and twelve years of experience and seniority in the House, he knows he can improve the future for the constituents of his district.
Representative Collins plan to return to Washington includes the following platform: solving the problems with energy costs; creating jobs for Georgians and keeping Georgia agriculture competitive; controlling illegal immigration; fixing the budget shortfall; winning the War on Terror; and encouraging Americans to keep the economy strong.
Secondly, Collins said, "The values and interests of working families, small business people, and farmers are not currently being represented in GA's new 8th District. The creation of the new Georgia 8th District has provided the opportunity for [me] to return to public service and ensure the values and interests of Middle and South Georgia are represented."
The Collins camp accuses Marshall with speaking one way within the District and voting another way in Washington (heard that before?). In recent election cycles, Republicans have been able to paint Southern Democrats as liberal lapdogs of the leftists in Washington with great success. Will it succeed on Jim Marshall?
So Collins charges Marshall with being a poor representative. Is he?
Representative Marshall certainly has a unique life-story. After beginning his undergraduate studies at Princeton, he left to enlist in the Army (his father and grandfather were both Army generals).
Shipped off to Vietnam, he served as an Airborne Ranger and reconnaissance platoon sergeant. Wounded in combat, he received two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart.
Marshall finished his degree at Princeton and earned a law degree at Boston University in 1977. Two years removed from law school, Marshall joined the faculty at Mercer University Law School. In 1995, Marshall ran succesfully for Mayor of Macon. As mayor, his fiscal management received the highest praise. The Macon Telegraph once said of Jim, "No predecessor in office ever outworked Jim Marshall, nor has any set a higher standard for honesty, integrity and sheer intellect."
In the House, Marshall is a member of the Armed Services Committee and Agriculture Committee, arguably two of the most important committees to Georgia, and especially to the residents of the 8th District -- which includes large numbers of military personnel and thousands of family farms.
Marshall's tenure in the House has been marked by centrist voting patterns. National Journal consistently ranks him among the centrists in Congress -- though the Collins campaign points out that Marshall votes with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi 73 percent of the time. Several of his more notable efforts were to end the Disabled Veterans Tax and passing a tobacco quota buyout. The Jim Marshall for Congress campaign calls Marshall a 'social conservative' who "opposes abortion, gay marriage and gun control and supports a constitutional amendment to ban flag-burning." All of these issues resonate very well with Middle Georgia voters.
So who is going to win? Early indications foreshadow Marshall keeping his seat. A recent survey by Mercer University slated 57 percent of respondents would vote for Marshall, while 23 percent would vote for Collins, with 20 percent undecided.
Pundits postulate that Marshall will keep his seat, though Collins will have a chance if he can raise enough money -- even Vice President Cheney has been in the 8th District to raise money for Collins.
Marshall's job is to continue to portray himself as a moderate, centrist Democrat in response to Mac Collins' assertions. The GOP is in control of the Georgia Statehouse and governor's mansion, as well as the congressional delegation. The GOP looks strong in Georgia in 2006 and might pick up one or two Congressional seats.
If Collins wins, we'll know that the dire predictions for GOP disaster in 2006 are not true.