Charlie Norwood's Legacy

In the first congressional contest since the 2006 election, two republicans are in a runoff to replace the late Charlie Norwood of the 10th district of Georgia. For Republicans, this contest will be bell weather of what is to come in ’08.  Democrats were hoping that one of their 4 candidates could win and build on their gains in 2006, but are now saying it doesn’t matter.

Charlie Norwood made his first run for office in 1994. Charlie was a veteran, a dentist and a novice to politics in 1994, just what the Republican Revolution was about.  He was a true conservative in every way and one of the most consistently conservative votes until his death in February, 2007.  He got it on the big issues of the day:  the war, taxes, spending, immigration, gun rights and social issues.  He embodied the conservative movement.

When Charlie came home in February, 2007, people began lining up to run for his seat.  In the 2006 election, Charlie got 67% of the vote so this was a strongly conservative district even in light of the Democrat gains in 2006. After his death, a special election was called for June 19, 2007 and 10 candidates qualified for the special election. Two republicans will be pitted against each other for the runoff on July 17th.  Jim Whitehead is the establishment favorite based out of Augusta, Georgia.  Jim is a State Senator with ties to the other big metro area in the district, Athens, Georgia, having played football in college at the University of Georgia.  Paul Broun is a doctor from Athens. His father served in the State Senate, Paul Broun, Sr. He’s said by some to be “too conservative,” “too religious,” and a perennial candidate — having run for several elected offices in his career. The message of this runoff for the 10th District of Georgia is “only real conservatives” apply.  

Neither candidate is a lawyer, Charlie would have liked that.  Whitehead comes from a business background and held local elected positions before the State Senate seat he held until he announced for Congress.  Broun is a primary care physician with an innovative “house call” practice.  I talked to both of them leading up to the primary and now leading up to the runoff.

Jim Whitehead is certainly the status quo and the money candidate.  He’s from the same hometown as Charlie was.  Charlie had encouraged him to run for his county commission seat and for his State Senate seat. He received 44% of the vote in the June 19th primary.  Paul Broun received 21% of the vote followed closely by the only Democrat to get out of single digits in this primary, Jim Marlow.  Overall, 70% of the voters voted for Republican candidates in the 10th.

The War was not the top issue in this primary; this constituency is a support the troops and support the Commander in Chief kind of place.  While President Bush has lost considerable support in this district, he is still twice a popular as he is anywhere in the country in the 10th District of Georgia.  The key issues were immigration reform, taxation, spending and size of government, then the War on Terror and our status in Iraq.   With the introduction of the now failed Senate Comprehensive Immigration bill, the fire was lit under these candidates to be specific about their immigration policies.  

Conventional wisdom tells you that the frontrunner doesn’t pick up much in the runoff and Jim Whitehead has to turn his voters out and get to 50% plus one to win.  Paul Broun, Jr. has to pick up virtually all of the other votes.  One thing is clear, this seat will stay in Republican hands and Whitehead and Broun will be more conservative than the average member of the Republican caucus.

Charlie Norwood’s legacy is of a consistently conservative congressman who knew how to get consensus. That legacy will be continued regardless of which candidate wins the runoff on July 17th.  Conservatism is not dead, in fact, if Charlie were alive, he would tell you that conservatism did not lose in November.  That is evidenced by the inability of Sen. Harry Reid in the US Senate to control his new Democrat senators on the immigration bill and by Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s inability in the House of Representatives to get anything of substance accomplished.  Reid and Pelosi have lower personal approval ratings than the president and their legislative wards, the House and the Senate, have the lowest approval ratings in history.  

The 10th Congressional District in Georgia will be the beginning of the rebuilding of the conservative coalition in government. It will stay in the hands of a conservative who will match Charlie Norwood’s ideology and could likely be more conservative than Charlie was.  Conservatism, when articulated clearly and implemented consistently, will always win in America.