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Schumer Coy About Whether Obama Will Campaign in Georgia Runoff

Updated 3:23 p.m.

While acknowledging that President-elect Barack Obama has become a major figure in Georgia’s Senate runoff, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) would only give a coy “stay tuned” to questions today about whether the Illinois Senator would appear in the Peach State before the Dec. 2 election.

At a news conference on Capitol Hill, Schumer said the committee has “been in close touch with the Obama campaign” as they have strategized for the runoff.

The December contest between former state Rep. Jim Martin (D) and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) has become one of the final battlegrounds of the 2008 cycle and could well be the key to Democrats’ winning a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate come January. Unofficial results from last week indicated that neither man was able to obtain the 50 percent plus one more vote necessary to win the race outright on Nov. 4.

With both sides already lashing the campaign machines for the three-week sprint, Schumer said Martin has come out of the gate swinging with a message that will work well in what is expected to be a low turnout affair. That message is that Georgia voters “can either vote for a Senator who will work with Barack Obama to change the direction of the country, or one who will obstruct change every step of the way,” he said.

Schumer did acknowledge the DSCC is polling in the runoff contest, and though he would not release head-to-head numbers, he said the race between Chambliss and Martin is close. He also said that heading into the three-way election on Nov. 4, the plan had always been to force Chambliss into a runoff.

The DSCC this week dropped cable television buys totaling $100,000 in several media markets around Georgia, and ads are now appearing on more than a dozen cable networks in Atlanta, Augusta, Macon and Savannah. The committee is also up on broadcast TV in the state, although the size of those ad buys was not immediately available.

The DSCC has also released a Web ad that seeks to remind Georgians that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who is visiting the Peach State today, once denounced a controversial Chambliss ad during his 2002 campaign against former Sen. Max Cleland (D).

The DSCC cites a statement by McCain calling the ad “worse than disgraceful.”

In an interview Thursday afternoon on MSNBC, Chambliss said he was excited and looking forward to having McCain in town to campaign for him.

Chambliss defended the ad that his campaign produced in 2002 that attacked Cleland for voting against Homeland Security measures and questioned the Vietnam veteran’s patriotism as “truthful in every way.”

He said the ad sought to “point out the voting record and he couldn’t dispute it because he knew it was true.”

When asked about the grass-roots network built by the Obama campaign and reports that Obama aides have descended on the state to help Martin, Chambliss said he knew the runoff would attract their attention.

“We fully expect they will very much be a force in this campaign,” Chambliss said, adding that he can’t be concerned about what Democrats are doing. “We’re focused on our side of the campaign.”

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