Many in GOP Likely to Vie for Deal’s Seat When It Opens

Posted July 23, 2007 at 6:27pm

Georgia has been hailed as the one and only bright spot for Republicans in the national Democratic wave of 2006. [IMGCAP(1)]

The narrow re-election margins of Democratic Reps. Jim Marshall and John Barrow reflected just how far the state — ruled with an iron fist by Democrats for decades until 2002 — has shifted toward the GOP.

And while some Democrats tried to take an anti-GOP establishment message away from the stunning upset of former state Sen. Jim Whitehead (R) in last week’s 10th district special election, the all-Republican runoff did nothing to prove that the GOP trend in the state is close to abating anytime soon.

Whitehead ran a campaign that took for granted geography, a wide fundraising advantage and the basics of campaigning, and ideology and national issues had little to no impact on the contest.

Meanwhile, physician Paul Broun (R), who was certified Monday by the Georgia secretary of state as the 10th district winner, is all but assured to get a competitive primary challenge next year provided his 394-vote lead holds.

The Augusta-based 10th district was represented by the late Rep. Charlie Norwood (R) from 1994 until his death in February.

Broun played up the Athens versus Augusta rivalry and used his base in the Democrat-friendly Athens area to catapult his grass-roots campaign to victory.

Whitehead, like Norwood, is from Augusta, and regaining the Augusta-based representation will be a strong theme in Broun’s 2008 primary.

Among those Republicans who are expected to strongly consider making the race are state Rep. Barry Fleming, former state Sen. Brian Kemp, former Athens-Clarke Mayor Doc Eldridge and former Augusta Mayor Bob Young, who resides in the neighboring 12th district. Kemp and Eldridge share Broun’s base in and around Athens, while Fleming and Young are from Augusta.

Kemp, who served in the state Senate from 2002 to 2006, is still viewed as a rising Republican star even after he lost a GOP primary for state agriculture commissioner last year.

Fleming, another up and comer, deferred to Whitehead in the Norwood special.

Young also has been mentioned as a possible challenger to Barrow in the 12th district next year, where Republicans are hopeful they can knock off the Congressman, who won by a scant 864-vote margin in 2006.

Thus far no one has stepped forward, and privately Republicans say it will be more difficult to beat Barrow in a presidential year because of increased black voter turnout.

State Rep. Buddy Carter (R), a freshman legislator and former five-term mayor of Pooler, has been mentioned as a possibility.

Down the road, some Republicans seek Augusta Mayor Deeke Copenhaver as an attractive Congressional candidate. The mayor in Augusta is a nonpartisan position, and Copenhaver is viewed as very popular and has a good relationship with the black community.

He also has personal resources and the potential to at least partially self-fund a bid for higher office.

While Republicans still are searching for a candidate in the 12th, they face the opposite dilemma in Marshall’s 8th district.

Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Rick Goddard (R), considered the GOP’s dream candidate for several years, is running and the race is expected to be a blockbuster.

Former Rep. Mac Collins (R-Ga.), who came within 2,000 votes of knocking off Marshall in the previous cycle, still is hovering out there, and Republicans know they can’t afford a primary.

The 2008 election will be a defining one in the middle-Georgia, Macon-based 8th district. If Goddard wins, the seat likely is his as long as he wants it, as it will be made only more Republican when it is redrawn after the 2010 Census.

If Marshall survives, especially in a presidential year, Republicans may be less apt to challenge the battle-tested Democrat in 2010.

But if Marshall wins, many observers look for him to make a statewide bid in 2010 — especially since he faces the prospect of being redistricted out of a winnable seat in the next cycle.

Marshall may look to run for governor, a race in which he would be among Democrats’ strongest contenders, or run for Senate.

Either way, Republicans look likely to pick up his seat when he vacates it.

The pending open seat now on most state politicos’ minds is that of Rep. Nathan Deal (R), who has been the subject of retirement rumors for several years.

Many in the state believe he is unlikely to run again in 2008, and an open-seat race would feature a crowded GOP primary in this rural Northwest Georgia district.

Among the GOP possibilities mentioned include: state Department of Transportation Board Chairman Mike Evans, a former state Representative; former state Sen. Bill Stephens; conservative syndicated radio talk show host Martha Zoller; Deal Chief of Staff Chris Riley; and former Rep. Max Burns.

Burns, a one-term Member, moved across the state to take a new teaching position earlier this year after losing to Barrow two cycles in a row.

Any other open seats in the Peach State in the next few years probably will be a result of the open gubernatorial race in 2010.

Sen. Johnny Isakson (R) will face his first Senate re-election in 2010, and many Republicans see the gubernatorial nod as his for the taking if he’s interested.

Isakson’s re-election seems solid, but if he were to vacate the Senate seat, one or more Congressional Republicans are likely to run.

Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R) has been mentioned as a possible statewide contender.

Waiting back home in his district for an open seat are state Sen. Mitch Seabaugh (R), state Sen. Ronnie Chance (R), state House Transportation Chairman Vance Smith (R) and former state Sen. Clay Land, now a U.S. district court judge.

Rep. Jack Kingston (R), who mulled running for an open Senate seat in 2004, also has several well-known and high-powered GOP legislators lined up for his seat when he does decide to leave.

State Senate President Pro Tempore Eric Johnson (R) and state House Majority Leader Jerry Keen (R) top the list.

In Rep. Tom Price’s 6th district, Cobb County Commission Chairman Sam Olens (R) and state Sen. Chip Rodgers (R) are young, popular and could have higher aspirations. And in Rep. Phil Gingrey’s 11th district — which was made more Republican in the 2005 redraw — GOP state Sens. Preston Smith and John Wiles are noteworthy possible future contenders.

Among Democrats, state Rep. Alicia Thomas Morgan is viewed as having a future in higher office. Elected to the state Legislature in her mid-20s, she lives in Rep. David Scott’s heavily Democratic and majority-black 13th district.