Whitehead Looking to Avoid Runoff in Ga.

Norwood Aides Boost Campaign

Posted June 13, 2007 at 5:56pm

There is little doubt that former state Sen. Jim Whitehead (R), who has run a campaign steeped in the memory and legacy of Rep. Charlie Norwood (R), is poised to succeed the late Congressman in Georgia’s 10th district.

The only question remaining is whether he can avoid a runoff when voters go to the polls next week to decide a special election contest that features 10 candidates.

Whitehead has been the anointed frontrunner ever since the beginning of the race to replace Norwood, who died Feb. 13 from complications with cancer at age 65.

His campaign has been guided by former Norwood Congressional aides and political consultants, and much of his paid media has been focused on the message that he is the candidate best suited to continue Norwood’s legacy.

His latest radio ad features the endorsement of Gloria Norwood, the Congressman’s widow.

“Jim’s a friend. He’s as conservative as Charlie and almost as independent,” Gloria Norwood says in the spot.

Voters will go to the polls Tuesday in the sprawling northeastern district that is anchored by Augusta, the shared political base of Norwood and Whitehead.

Whitehead, 65, is a former Columbia County Commissioner and owner of Jim Whitehead Tire & Auto. He was first elected to the state Senate in 2004 and was forced to relinquish his seat in April, when he qualified to run in the special election.

The special election amounts to an all-party primary, with the top two vote-getters advancing to a July 17 runoff if no candidate gets more than 50 percent in the initial vote.

Whitehead, whose verbal miscues during the campaign have invited unwanted headlines, is the only candidate who has run an aggressive ad campaign. He has been criticized by his opponents for skipping two recent debates, but the chatter isn’t likely to break through the barrage of TV and radio ads Whitehead’s campaign has been running.

If a runoff does materialize, Republicans closely monitoring the race believe Whitehead most likely will face physician Paul Broun (R) or businessman James Marlow (D).

Broun, the son and namesake of a former Democratic state Senator, has a base in and around Athens, the district’s other population center.

Marlow, the leading Democrat in the contest, recently began running TV ads. With the Republican vote fractured, it is possible that he could end up in the runoff with Whitehead.

But in a head-to-head contest, the Democrat would appear to face an insurmountable uphill climb. The socially conservative district gave President Bush 65 percent in 2004, and the state has only trended more Republican despite the president’s poor national approval ratings. National Democrats have not targeted the race as a pickup opportunity.

Whitehead has raised more than $577,000 for his campaign, far eclipsing that of all of his rivals. Broun had raised almost $200,000 as of May 30, but he showed just more than $5,000 in the bank as of that date while Whitehead had $250,000.

Marlow had raised $122,000 as of the end of last month and had $84,000 left as of May 30.

The wild card in the race is Bill Greene, the founder and president of RightMarch.com who has made illegal immigration the central issue of his campaign. Greene has been endorsed by Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) and also received help from former U.N. Ambassador Alan Keyes, who has lost multiple bids for federal offices.

All total, six Republicans, three Democrats and one Libertarian are vying to succeed Norwood, who had held the seat since 1994.