Georgia Republicans Bypass Atlanta, Take Capital

Georgia joined the Republican realignment wave in the South last week, as Election Day yielded the state’s first Republican governor since Reconstruction, GOP control of the state senate, a Republican U.S. senator, and eight Republican congressmen out of 13.

Georgia had been the only state that had not elected a Republican governor in the 20th Century.

Incumbent Gov. Roy Barnes was not the only major state Democrat defeated. State Senate Majority Leader Charles Walker and 28-year House Speaker Tom Murphy, the capo di capi of Georgia Democratic politicians, also both lost. Murphy was the longest-serving state house speaker in the country.

Republicans Phil Gingrey and Max Burns won in congressional districts that Democrats had gerrymandered for themselves, including one drawn for Walker’s son.

Though Democrat Mark Taylor won reelection as lieutenant governor, and though Democrats won the state house, the state senate became Republican after the election when three Democrats switched parties.

As recently as this summer, Barnes was considered invincible and mentioned as a presidential candidate.

Five factors contributed to the Republican victory: Barnes’ arrogance and ethical lapses, Democratic Sen. Max Cleland’s liberal record, aggressive campaign visits from President Bush (including one just before Election Day), an unprecedented get-out-the-vote effort mounted by the Republican National Committee and the state party, and the nomination of Republican candidates from outside the metro Atlanta area.

Barnes carried the Atlanta area by 7.7 points, up from 6.8 points in 1998. But he lost the rest of the state by 15 points instead of winning by 10 points. Barnes himself said that while Democratic voters turned out in force, there was a "surge" of Republicans. The GOP victor, Sonny Perdue, a former Democratic state senate majority leader who switched parties four years ago, beat Barnes 51% to 46%. Yet, Barnes outspent Perdue $20 million to $3 million.

Georgia GOP Chairman Ralph Reed told HUMAN EVENTS: "It was the biggest get-out-the-vote effort in the history of our state." Yet Reed declined credit for Georgia’s remarkable Republican realignment. Perdue and outgoing Rep. Saxby Chambliss, the winning Senate candidate, "brought voters to our party outside of metro Atlanta that we’ve never gotten before," he said.

Barnes alienated many voters with his perceived arrogance. This perception was heightened by the deal he cut with state legislators last year, behind closed doors, to shrink dramatically the large Confederate emblem on the state flag. Perdue promised voters a referendum on the issue.

Georgia pro-lifers also remembered that Barnes flip-flopped to become pro-abortion in order to obtain the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. Perdue is pro-life.

Reed said that "Georgia has the highest per capita tax burden" in the South and "experienced the highest job losses in the country" in the latest recession. He pointed to the state party’s "Declaration for a New Georgia," an agenda that helped unify the messages of GOP candidates.

Chambliss hit Cleland hard on his opposition to President Bush’s plan for Homeland Security, his support for tax increases, and his radical social agenda, including support for partial-birth abortion and morning-after abortion pills for minors, and opposition to the Boy Scouts’ traditional rules (see box). Chambliss won 53% to 46%.


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