Voters to Weigh in on McKinney

Posted July 19, 2004 at 6:46pm

The comeback attempt being waged by former Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) tops a lengthy list of notable House and Senate contests on tap today, as primary voters in Georgia and North Carolina head to the polls.

Both states are hosting open-seat Senate races in November, and while the general election contest has been under way for months in the Tar Heel State, voters in Georgia are still waiting to see who will square off in the general election to succeed retiring Sen. Zell Miller (D).

There are also more than a half- dozen competitive House primaries slated.

In Georgia’s 4th district, Democratic primary voters will decide which two women will advance to what is expected to be a high-profile and potentially bitter runoff to succeed Rep. Denise Majette (D) in the suburban Atlanta seat.

McKinney, ousted by Majette in a primary two years ago, is considered a virtual lock for one of the Aug. 10 runoff spots.

State Sen. Liane Levetan is also favored to advance to the runoff, although former Atlanta City Council President Cathy Woolard claims to have enough momentum in the final stretch to put her in the contest with McKinney.

The latest survey, conducted July 10-12 by Alan Secrest of Cooper & Secrest Associates, Inc., showed Levetan with 35 percent and McKinney with 32 percent. Woolard got 13 percent in the poll. Two previous polls conducted by Secrest showed similar results.

“Both Liane and Cynthia McKinney are very well known,” Secrest said. “Voters have come to know Liane in a deeper way during this campaign and basically are affirming her stewardship both as DeKalb [County] CEO and state Senator. She’s very well positioned to represent this electorate and of course has represented the vast majority of this electorate for the better part of 20 years.”

The 4th district is made up almost entirely of DeKalb County, which lies to the west of Atlanta. Woolard lives just outside of the 4th district boundaries, although she notes that her family has lived in DeKalb County for more than 100 years.

“This clearly is Liane Levetan’s year,” Secrest said.

Woolard, however, contends that events over the past week have helped to move the race in her favor. She said she’s comfortable being the underdog and points to previous crowded races where she has run aggressive grassroots campaigns and been victorious in the end.

“I’ve said from the beginning that this is a very close race between me and Cynthia and Liane, and I still think it is,” Woolard said confidently on Friday. “I think it will be me and Cynthia [in the runoff]. But it’s that close.”

She notes that the Secrest poll was taken at the same time many voters in the district were getting their first look at all of the candidates during a televised debate July 11.

Also last week Woolard and a district resident filed state and federal complaints against Levetan, charging that she violated the law by spending money from her state Senate campaign account this spring on a poll to test her viability in the Congressional race.

Levetan, a member of the state Senate Ethics Committee, maintains that she did noting improper, but she has refunded half of the $21,000 paid to Secrest in April back to her Senate account.

Woolard, who was endorsed by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Friday, also said a late media and mail blitz would benefit her campaign.

She launched her first network television ads a week ago and currently has a heavier ad presence than Levetan, who began running ads in the expensive Atlanta media market two weeks ago.

“We saved all of our money until the end when we thought voters were really listening,” Woolard said. “And now we’re talking to them I think makes a real difference.”

Secrest said that Woolard’s effort is too little, too late.

“They’re not going to win this race in the last four days,” he said.

Levetan’s allies are also quick to note that no other campaign has offered empirical evidence to dispute their polling.

Also competing in the 4th district primary today are state Sens. Nadine Thomas and Connie Stokes and marketing executive Chris Vaughn.

The winner of the runoff will be the overwhelming favorite against Republican Catherine Davis in November.

Woolard, who is openly gay, and Levetan are the only two white candidates in the race. The district is 53 percent black, although white voters made up the majority of the primary electorate in 2002.

Turnout is expected to be fairly high today, although not as high as in the 2002 race between McKinney and Majette, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for Senate in today’s balloting.

The 2002 contest between Majette and McKinney became a nasty battle that was influenced heavily by financial contributions from interest groups representing both sides of the Middle East conflict. Contributions from out-of-state sources flowed to both black women in the closing weeks of that campaign.

McKinney, one of the most controversial Members of the House during her Congressional career, was backed by Arab-American and Muslim interests, while Majette got strong support from Jewish community.

While national interest groups have largely stayed out of the 4th district, so far observers expect they will play heavily in a runoff. Levetan is Jewish.

Levetan consultant Bob Doyle agreed that the runoff will receive increased media attention, and he predicted that national forces will mobilize in the runoff, where the central focus will be McKinney.

“Obviously it’s an understatement to say that Cynthia stirs passions,” said Doyle, who was a consultant to Majette’s 2002 campaign against McKinney.

He added: “We’re confident that we’ll be able to raise money in Georgia and nationally to be able to put her down.”

Preprimary fundraising reports filed with the FEC last week showed Woolard and Levetan with comparable amounts of available cash.

Levetan, who secured a $200,000 loan to her campaign using her personal retirement account, had about $300,000 in cash on hand.

Woolard, whose fundraising has been aided by the national gay and lesbian community, had $273,000 in the bank.

McKinney showed about $74,000 in the bank on June 30. She has run radio ads but has not had a presence on television.

The fundraising report showed several of her former colleagues and members of the Congressional Black Caucus have aided her comeback effort.

Among those who have sent contributions are Reps. Chaka Fattah (Pa.), Mel Watt (N.C.) Edolphus Towns (N.Y.), Eddie Bernice Johnson (Texas) and Elijah Cummings (Md.), the current chairman of the CBC.

Although no other polling besides that done for Levetan has been released in the race, McKinney’s report showed she paid close to $15,000 to Zogby International, the polling firm of John Zogby, on June 24.

Zogby’s brother, James, is the head of the Arab-American Institute and a contributor to McKinney’s campaign.

Georgia

The 4th district race is one of a handful across the state that are expected to head to an Aug. 10 runoff.

Topping the ballot are the Republican and Democratic Senate primaries, where a total of 11 candidates are vying to succeed Miller.

On the Republican side, frontrunner Rep. Johnny Isakson’s chances of winning without a runoff appear to be improving.

A Zogby International poll released last week by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution showed Isakson getting a solid 46 percent support from likely primary voters.

“We’re right there,” said Isakson campaign manager Chris Carr. “It will be interesting.”

There has been no independent polling publicly released in the GOP contest, and Isakson’s polling has also shown him with a commanding lead.

Meanwhile, former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain now appears well-positioned to make the runoff with Isakson, if the Congressman fails to get more than 50 percent of the vote.

Cain got 16 percent in the Zogby poll, while Rep. Mac Collins (R) received 8 percent. Collins, who trails badly in fundraising, spent Monday attending get-out-the-vote rallies across his Columbus-based district.

Cain and Collins have both used the television airwaves to launch attacks on Isakson. But in recent days Cain has taken the brunt of the blows from both opponents. Collins, trying to make a runoff if there is one, is airing radio ads attacking Cain, while Isakson sent out a mailer last week hitting Cain on a variety of matters including a past contribution to then-Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) and a brief exploration into running for president in 2000.

On the Democratic side, Majette and millionaire entrepreneur Cliff Oxford appear headed for an almost certain runoff, and either will be considered the underdog going into the November election.

Meanwhile, two open-seat contests to succeed Isakson and Collins will be decided Tuesday.

In the crowded 6th district primary, state Sen. Tom Price (R) is considered a lock for one of the almost certain runoff spots.

State Sens. Chuck Clay and Robert Lamutt are in a nasty battle for the second spot. Clay has long been considered the leading contender to make the runoff, but Lamutt has spent $1.2 million of his own money in order to spoil his chances.

With Isakson on the Senate ballot, turnout is expected to be high today.

The population center of the suburban Atlanta district is in Cobb County, where Clay, Lamutt and Isakson are from.

Price, who has been aided recently by radio ads paid for by the American Medical Association political action committee and recorded calls from Atlanta Braves All-Star pitcher John Smoltz, is from north Fulton County.

In the 8th district race to succeed Collins, state Rep. Lynn Westmoreland is the leading Republican in the four-way contest.

Former Bush administration aide Dylan Glenn and state Sen. Mike Crotts are attempting to force Westmoreland, a former leader of the state House, into a runoff. The district stretches southwest of Atlanta and takes in portions of 18 counties.

Both the 6th and 8th districts are safe Republican seats, and whoever wins the primary or runoff will be expected to join the 109th Congress.

The state’s most competitive House race this fall is expected to unfold in the 12th district, and both parties will be monitoring the outcome of today’s Democratic primary race between Athens-Clarke County Commissioner John Barrow, former state Sen. Doug Haines and attorney Tony Center.

The winner of the primary will face freshman Rep. Max Burns (R), who is considered one of the most vulnerable incumbents up for re-election.

While Barrow is currently favored to win the nod, a heated battle over endorsements in recent weeks has put Haines in position to force a runoff.

The district, which stretches from Savannah to Augusta to Athens, has a 42 percent black population, and it voted overwhelmingly for Democrat Al Gore in the 2000 presidential contest.

North Carolina

Three open-seat primaries and a special election contest top the list of federal races on the North Carolina ballot today. Republican voters will also choose a gubernatorial nominee who will face Gov. Mike Easley (D) in November.

In the 1st district, which encompasses much of the northeastern part of the state, voters will not only select who will fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Rep. Frank Ballance (D), but they will also decide whether that same person will be able to seek a full term in November.

Former state Supreme Court Justice G.K. Butterfield (D) is the overwhelming favorite over security consultant Greg Dority (R) in the special election contest to succeed Ballance, who resigned June 8 because of health problems related to a neuromuscular disorder.

The winner of the special election will be sworn in after votes are certified in August and will serve until a new Congressman takes over in January.

Butterfield is also one of four Democrats seeking the Democratic nomination for the November general election. Businessman Sam Davis (D) has run some television ads and appears to be the only obstacle Butterfield faces as he tries to avoid an Aug. 17 runoff.

Democrats Christine Fitch, an associate professor at East Carolina University, and attorney Darryl Smith are also running.

Candidates must get more than 40 percent of the primary vote in order to clear the nomination. Dority faces Jerry Williford in his bid for the GOP nomination, although Republicans are not expected to contest this seat in the fall.

By far the most crowded and nastiest of today’s contests is taking place in the 5th district, where eight Republicans and three Democrats are scrapping to succeed Rep. Richard Burr (R), who is running for Senate.

The race has been marked by controversial ads, distorted endorsements and anonymous smear campaigns.

One recent poll showed businessman Ed Broyhill, the son of former North Carolina Sen. Jim Broyhill (R), narrowly leading the GOP pack.

Either state Sen. Virginia Foxx or Winston-Salem City Councilman Vernon Robinson look most likely to make the runoff with Broyhill.

In the 10th district, nine-term Rep. Cass Ballenger (R) is retiring, and his hand-picked successor appears likely to prevail in the primary.

Ballenger has appeared in ads on behalf of businessman Sandy Lyons, whom he recruited to run.

Lyons faces textile executive George Moretz, Catawba County Sheriff David Huffman and state Rep. Patrick McHenry, who are also seeking the GOP nod.