Challenging Cynthia

Posted: Apr 06, 2006 8:05 PM

Most media have missed the most important aspect of Rep. Cynthia McKinney's alleged assault on a Capitol policeman.

However this plays out legally, and whatever McKinney, D-Ga., may have belatedly offered by way of an apology, she will probably lose her re-election bid this November.

"What?" I can hear the incredulous cry from Washington's expert observers.

"That's insane," they're saying. "She has a heavily weighted African-American district that votes overwhelmingly Democratic!"

True, but let's not forget that she also lost a re-election race in 2002 for similar -- but ultimately less serious -- reasons.

Back then, InsiderAdvantage released a poll that suggested McKinney would lose to a little-known local judge by the name of Denise Majette.

The poll, which came out well before that Democratic primary contest, was doubted by the most seasoned of national and state political experts. But it was correct.

Here's what happened in 2002, and how something like a refrain of that story will probably play out again this year.

In 2002, McKinney made post-9/11 comments that irritated many otherwise liberal Democrats in her district, black and white. She said more or less that President George W. Bush had known the terrorist attacks would happen before they did.

Her ties to the Islamic community, including significant campaign donations from Islamic business leaders, only heightened concerns about her.

It helped Majette in her upset bid that she was an appealing candidate, and African American herself. It was easier for her than it would have been for many others to peel away a certain fragment of the congressional district's black voters from McKinney.

Critically, our early poll indicated a coming crossover vote: Independents and even some Republicans who lived in the northernmost (read: whitest) sections of the district had decided to forego voting in the GOP primary for governor and instead vote in the Democratic primary. Their motive was to defeat Cynthia McKinney, and they did.

For some inexplicable reason, Majette served only one term in Congress before trying a run for U.S. Senate. She lost badly to one of the state's Republican stars, Johnny Isakson.

Make no mistake, McKinney will be up against the same election dynamics when the Georgia Democratic primary is held this summer. It's likely -- though not yet official -- that another appealing black candidate, a county commissioner from the heart of the district, is set to oppose her.

Independent and Republican voters in this district will have few temptations to "stay home" and vote in the GOP primary.

Incumbent Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue is a lock for his party's nomination.

Even the much-discussed race for lieutenant governor -- featuring controversial former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed -- won't stop many voters from skipping the GOP primary for a chance to vote out McKinney in the Democratic one.

That's how intense the ill will is toward McKinney from those she presumably could have won over were her public persona less confrontational, and embarrassing to her district.

What's doubly sad is an even lesser-known fact: In the late 1980s and early 1990s, many Republicans knew McKinney when they served with her in the state Legislature.

To a person, they will attest that she was highly personable. Moreover, they'll tell you that she encouraged them to take on the state's Democratic-dominated "good ol' boy" government.

While most of McKinney's political positions are now totally out of touch with most voters, and her attack on the Capitol officer seemingly impossible to defend, it's still regrettable that the warm and friendly side of McKinney has been totally subsumed by an endless series of increasingly bizarre political statements, accusations and acts of defiance.

Regardless of how one judges her, from a pure polling and strategic standpoint, it appears the media are missing what will most likely be Cynthia McKinney's greatest punishment: She is now consigned to relive the events of 2002.

What could save her in a primary race? Possibly the fact that her opponent will likely be an African-American man and not a woman.

It may well be that some women voters who abandoned McKinney in 2002 will stick with her against a man.

On the other hand, what might make this a more stinging defeat than last time? The fact that her presumptive opponent, DeKalb County Commissioner Hank Johnson, has a set constituency, and that the independent and Republican voters who crossed over to defeat McKinney in 2002 are fired up again.

As usual, only the obvious issue -- whether Cynthia McKinney would be punished inside the Beltway -- caught the eyes of most of national media.

The truth is that her ultimate downfall will happen back home.