Georgia Frontrunner Comes to D.C.

Posted March 5, 2007 at 6:34pm

State Sen. Jim Whitehead (R), the early frontrunner in the special election to succeed the late Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-Ga.), will be in Washington, D.C., this week making the rounds and trolling for support.

Whitehead is scheduled to be in town Wednesday and Thursday and will attend several meet-and-greets on and off Capitol Hill.

The state Senator also has signed up some members of Norwood’s consulting team and three of the late Congressman’s aides.

A crowded field of Republicans is lining up for the June 19 all-party special election, with Whitehead, state Sen. Ralph Hudgens and former Athens Mayor Doc Eldridge the best-known among them.

Eldridge, who served as mayor as a Democrat but would run as a Republican, has not yet said whether he will enter the race.

Hudgens and Whitehead have to give up their seats in the Legislature once they qualify to run in the special election. With the current state legislative session not expected to end until next month, the secretary of state has agreed to set the special election filing deadline for after the end of the session so that both men can continue to serve.

Hudgens, who represents an Athens-area seat, has run for Congress three times before. He lost a 1994 runoff to Norwood, who went on to defeat an incumbent in the general election.

Whitehead is the only candidate currently in the race from suburban Augusta, which also was Norwood’s political base. Whitehead is a former Columbia County Commissioner and owner of Jim Whitehead Tire & Auto.

Whitehead’s consulting team includes pollster Brian Tringali of The Tarrance Group, media consultant Sonny Scott of Anthem Media, Jay Williams of the Stoneridge Group for direct mail and Internet and Vic Gresham of the Conquest Communications Group for telephones. Tringali and Williams formerly worked for Norwood.

Atlanta-based GOP strategist Joel McElhannon is managing the campaign. McElhannon served as the chief consultant for now-Georgia Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle’s (R) 2006 campaign.

McElhannon noted the advantages of building the campaign around Norwood’s organization.

“We have a lot of the Norwood campaign operation as part of what we’re doing here,” McElhannon said, adding that these are “people who know the district intimately and know the people here.”

Amelia Elizabeth Brown, who was Norwood’s campaign manager and political director, will be deputy campaign manager.

Also, Norwood aides Brendan Belair and Thomas Worthy are taking a leave of absence from his Capitol Hill office to join Whitehead’s campaign.

Belair, a legislative assistant, will be political director for the campaign.

Worthy, who was an executive assistant to Norwood, will handle Whitehead’s scheduling and serve as the candidate’s personal aide.

If no candidate gets more than 50 percent in the all-party June special election, a runoff between the top two vote-getters will be held July 17.

Several Democrats have said they are contemplating running in the special election, but the party is not expected to seriously contest the seat. President Bush won 65 percent of the vote there in 2004.