Oxford, Majette Seek Support at Convention

Posted July 27, 2004 at 4:14pm

With the heart and soul of the Georgia Democratic Party gathered in Boston this week to help nominate Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, Rep. Denise Majette and millionaire businessman Cliff Oxford are bringing their battle for the party’s Senate nomination to town today.

The two Democrats are scheduled to attend the Peach State delegation’s breakfast meeting at the Democratic National Convention this morning, as they seek support for an Aug. 10 runoff.

Majette topped a crowded primary field last week, winning 41 percent of the vote. And while she is favored in the runoff, her nomination appears far from certain against the free-spending Oxford.

Regardless of who eventually wins the nomination, the party is given long odds of holding the seat of retiring Sen. Zell Miller (D) in November. Republicans last week nominated Rep. Johnny Isakson, who garnered a solid 53 percent of the vote in a three-way contest, and the race is widely viewed as his to lose.

While the race between Majette and Oxford has heated up back home this week, members of the Georgia delegation haven’t seemed to notice amid the enthusiasm of cheering on homegrown heroes former President Jimmy Carter and former Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.), both of whom have prominent speaking roles at the convention.

“I think they came here for the presidential campaign; that’s what they’re going to continue to focus on,” said Georgia Democratic Party spokesman Emil Runge.

Amid the partisanship and partying, many Democrats appear to be taking a wait-and-see approach to the Senate contest.

“I think it is a fluid process right now,” Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker said Monday. “I’m not sure how the election is going to roll out.”

Baker and Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin (D) said they were considering getting involved in the runoff, likely to aid Majette. Both Baker and Franklin, who are black, were touted as potential Senate contenders during the party’s more than yearlong search for a viable Senate candidate.

“I said I was going to stay neutral, but I certainly am thinking about it,” Franklin said after the delegation’s breakfast meeting Monday. “I am definitely thinking about it.”

Majette was endorsed Monday by state Sen. Mary Squires (D), who got 9 percent of the vote and placed fourth in the primary. Oxford, meanwhile, scooped up the endorsement of two other primary contenders, perennial candidate Jim Boyd and attorney Jim Finklestein, who garnered a total of 16 percent of the vote between them.

Oxford and Majette, a superdelegate to the convention, arrived in Boston Tuesday. While Majette’s schedule was filled with receptions and other events, Oxford spent part of his time meeting with key leaders of the Georgia delegation.

Oxford met with state House Speaker Terry Coleman (D) and state Rep. Calvin Smyre (D) Tuesday. Coleman, who like Oxford hails from South Georgia, has donated to Oxford’s campaign. Smyre is chairman of the state House Rules Committee and a leader in the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus.

Majette has largely run a grassroots campaign, focusing on shoring up her base in the black community. While hotly contested Democratic races elevated black turnout in the 4th and 12th district primaries last week, Majette’s fate in the runoff could rest on her ability to draw those same voters back out to vote.

“There is really no big ticket race in the 4th to help generate voters coming back to the polls now,” Baker said. “That’s a problem for her. She’s got to be able to generate that enthusiasm and that excitement herself.”

“Or get some help from friends,” Franklin chimed in.

“My analysis is that Denise is putting her everything into this,” Franklin added. “She has everything to lose. She gave up her seat.”

Majette, who could only afford to buy time on radio before the primary, is expected to face a barrage of television ads self-financed by Oxford. He has put nearly $1 million into the race thus far.

Baker said party activists would stand firmly behind their eventual nominee, as he tried to sound optimistic about the party’s ability to hold onto the seat in a state that is trending more and more Republican.

“We’re going to get a good solid Democratic nominee who is going to be able to make headway in Georgia,” Baker said. “Whoever comes out of that race, we’re going to be 100 percent behind that person and we’re going to fight. We’re going to fight for that Senate seat.”