Runoff in Georgia’s 8th Stirs Passions

Posted July 30, 2004 at 6:12pm

The Republican runoff in Georgia’s 8th district between state House Minority Leader Lynn Westmoreland and Dylan Glenn, who has been an aide in the Bush White House and to Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue (R), is gaining increased national attention with just more than one week to go, thanks to a series of high-profile endorsements and the emergence of race as an issue.

Glenn, who finished second behind Westmoreland in the July 20 primary, is vying to become a black Republican in a Congress that currently has none. Last week, Glenn was endorsed by former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.). This week he’s getting some help from the last black GOP lawmaker to serve in the House.

Former Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.), who rose through the ranks to become GOP Conference Chairman before retiring in 2002, is scheduled to travel to the district to formally endorse Glenn this week.

One Glenn associate noted that, if elected, Glenn’s profile as a young black man would not only benefit national Republicans, but the state and district as well.

Even with the heightened buzz in some GOP circles about Glenn’s potential, his campaign maintains that the issue of race is merely an afterthought in a district that has an 83 percent white population.

And the endorsement game aside, Glenn’s campaign manager said that the strength of his campaign lies in the candidate and what he’s talking about.

“That’s really been the strength of our campaign: Number one, we’ve got a great candidate, and then we had a message,” said Glenn campaign manager Steve Butler.

In the end, those qualities trump all endorsements, Butler said.

“Endorsements are nice, they get you in the paper, but if you don’t have a good message and you don’t have a good candidate, then you’re going to have a hard time,” Butler said. “It’s more about people than it is about endorsements.”

As Glenn has brought in national figures to help boost his campaign — he also counts Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) among his supporters — Westmoreland has touted his home-grown support and his legislative experience.

Westmoreland has the backing of Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) as well as four members of the state’s House delegation. Chambliss was the featured speaker at a Westmoreland fundraiser last week.

“We feel pretty strongly about the fact that the endorsements that we have are from people who currently hold elected office in Georgia,” said Glenn campaign adviser Chip Lake.

Westmoreland topped Glenn, 46 percent to 38 percent, in the four-way primary. The runoff will be held a week from Tuesday.

State Sen. Mike Crotts, who garnered 11 percent in the primary, endorsed Glenn last week despite previously expressing doubts about Glenn’s electability.

Before the primary, Crotts said voters in the district might not embrace an black candidate such as Glenn.

“I told Dylan [that] I am not a prejudiced man and know he is not a prejudiced man, but the 8th district is not ready for you even though you are capable of serving,” Crotts was quoted as saying.

He later said his comments were taken out of context and he said Thursday that he had moved past his misgivings about Glenn’s youth. Westmoreland, meanwhile, has been endorsed by fourth-place finisher Tom Mills, who got 5 percent.

Despite Glenn’s high-profile endorsements, Westmoreland campaign consultant Chip Lake points to evidence that shows Westmoreland is well positioned to win the runoff.

A Public Opinion Strategies poll conducted July 21-22 for Westmoreland’s campaign showed Westmoreland beating Glenn 51 percent to 40 percent in a test of the runoff.

Glenn outraised Westmoreland before the primary. But Westmoreland uses that fact to help paint him as an inexperienced carpetbagger who has more supporters in Washington, D.C., than in the district.

“He obviously had access to a greater donor base outside of Georgia than we did,” Lake said, asserting that 70 percent of Glenn’s money has come from outside the state.

Westmoreland is also hitting his 35-year-old opponent for his lack of legislative experience. Glenn came to Washington, D.C., after graduating from college and worked in the first Bush administration and for the Republican National Committee.

More recently, he was appointed to a position on the Bush White House’s economic team and later served as Perdue’s deputy chief of staff. While the governor has remained neutral, many in his inner circle are backing Glenn.

While Glenn has campaigned on his years of experience as a public servant in Washington and in Georgia, his opponent has a different take on the matter.

“Lynn Westmoreland is the only person in this race who has any experience representing people and casting votes,” Lake said, adding that the state Legislator hasn’t just been a “member of somebody’s staff.”

“That’s the real experience that I think people want,” he said. “I don’t think they’re looking for the type of experience Dylan’s talking about.”

Glenn has run for Congress twice before in the neighboring 2nd district. He lost a 1998 GOP primary, then fell short of defeating Rep. Sanford Bishop in 2000 by a margin of 54 percent to 47 percent. The 8th District includes 18 south metro Atlanta counties and votes solidly Republican. The GOP runoff winner will be a shoo-in.