Primary Primer: The Sacrificial Lamb?

Posted August 1, 2008 at 5:18pm

After a three-week runoff sprint, Georgia Democrats head back to the polls Tuesday to determine who will try to keep Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) from winning a second term in November.

Former state Rep. Jim Martin and DeKalb County Chief Executive Officer Vernon Jones were the top two vote- getters in the Peach State’s crowded July 15 primary, where Jones earned 40 percent to Martin’s 34 percent.

Since then, Martin has picked up the endorsement of two of the three primary candidates who did not make the runoff: Atlanta TV reporter Dale Cardwell and businessman Rand Knight. The third primary candidate, former Congressional aide Josh Lanier, said he will not make an endorsement but will support whoever is chosen as the nominee.

Martin, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in 2006, is the favorite of much of the state’s political establishment. Jones, who is black, has a strong base of support among African-Americans, who make up about 29 percent of the state’s population.

In a state that some observers believe could become a battleground in the presidential election, both Martin and Jones have cast themselves as the candidate who could better help presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) win the state this fall.

Jones has positioned himself as a conservative Democrat whose smaller-government policies would play well among conservative Peach State voters in the general election. But Martin has attacked Jones for public statements in which he has admitted to voting for President Bush in 2000 and 2004. Jones has returned the attacks, pointing out that Martin was a contributor to former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) and not Obama during the presidential primaries.

Martin’s key endorsements during the short runoff campaign have come from the Georgia state AFL-CIO and the Rev. Joseph Lowery, a leader in the civil rights movement. But Jones has also picked up the endorsement of a civil rights icon in the Rev. Willie Bolden, a Baptist minister.

Between July 1 and July 16, Martin raised $227,000 and had $56,000 in cash on hand, according to his pre-runoff Federal Election Commission report. Jones’ campaign has been cited by the FEC for failing to file a pre-primary report.

Regardless of who wins the runoff, Chambliss is favored to win a second term. At the end of June, the Senator had more than $4 million in cash on hand for his re-election campaign.