Broun Upset Win Looks Likely in Ga.

Posted July 18, 2007 at 6:06pm

Physician Paul Broun (R), considered a long shot in the race to succeed the late Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-Ga.), is poised to become the newest Member of the Georgia delegation after apparently pulling a stunning upset in Tuesday’s special election runoff.

With a handful of votes left to be counted and a possible recount lingering, Broun led former state Sen. Jim Whitehead (R) by 373 votes Wednesday afternoon.

Whitehead had been considered the heir apparent in the northeast Georgia district since Norwood’s death in February. He raised more than $765,000 for the race, boasted the endorsement of Gloria Norwood, the late Congressman’s widow, and had the full strength of Norwood’s political operation behind his campaign.

Attempts to contact representatives of the Whitehead campaign were unsuccessful Wednesday.

Whitehead won 44 percent in the 10-candidate all-party special election primary on June 19. Broun barely made it into the runoff, garnering 21 percent of the vote.

Sources described dissension and infighting within the Whitehead operation even before the runoff, caused by differing opinions on campaign strategy between Norwood Chief of Staff John Walker and Joel McElhannon, a Georgia-based political consultant who was hired to run the campaign.

McElhannon eventually parted ways with the Whitehead campaign and is now involved with former Sen. Fred Thompson’s (R-Tenn.) budding 2008 presidential effort. His role in the runoff was minimal, with Walker and the rest of the former Norwood political team left to call the shots.

Geography played a large part in Broun’s apparent victory, and sources said Whitehead seemed to do little to stem his opponent’s attempts to make the race into an Augusta versus Athens showdown.

Tuesday’s vote totals showed that Broun not only won his home county by an overwhelming 9-1 margin, but he also was able to eat into Whitehead’s base in suburban Augusta. Broun won 26 percent in Columbia County, where Whitehead and Norwood are both from.

In the runoff, Whitehead did some paid advertising on TV and radio but did hardly any phone banking and mail pieces, the two best ways to reach grass-roots supporters. Broun, on the other hand, focused his campaign entirely on grass-roots outreach to Christian conservatives using mail, phones and churches.

Broun also didn’t hold any punches when it came to attacking Whitehead, and some observers said Whitehead’s campaign made a fatal mistake in not answering the blows.

Whitehead’s antagonistic relationship with the Athens Banner-Herald didn’t help either, as it only fed Broun’s message that Whitehead cared only about Augusta. Broun sought to convince his base in heavily Democratic Athens that it was time to have one of their own in Washington, D.C. Broun’s late father was a longtime Democratic state Senator.

It remained unclear late Wednesday whether Whitehead would seek a recount, which he is entitled to under the law if the current margin holds. The election results are expected to be certified by the secretary of state next week.

Broun put $80,000 of his own money into his campaign on July 9, bringing his total personal investment in the contest to a little more than $200,000. Whitehead had raised $705,000 as of June 27, and on July 5 he reported another $60,000 raised in a three-day period. From May 31 to June 27, Whitehead spent $314,000 while Broun spent around $80,000.

Sources said they consider Whitehead highly unlikely to run for the seat again next year, but one or more other well-known Republicans are almost certain to.