“We all have Georgia on our mind,” declared governor and 2008 GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin as she kicked off an early morning Dec. 1 rally in Augusta, Georgia, on behalf of first-term incumbent U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss.
It was the first of four rallies yesterday, each featuring thousands of cheering crowds brandishing “Palin 2012” shirts and buttons — along with, of course, Chambliss signs. (My favorite anti-Barack Obama sign read: “Keep the change.”)
The Alaska governor was firing up the faithful to hold a critical GOP seat since Georgia is the only state that mandates an election runoff if a Senate candidate doesn’t receive 50 percent-plus-one of the popular vote. Palin was also countering earlier appearances on behalf of Democratic candidate Jim Martin by several liberal “big guns” led by former President Bill Clinton and Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.
Tracking polls released on the eve of the vote show Chambliss with a three to four point lead over Martin going into today’s runoff. The early voting numbers also reveal excellent promise for the incumbent. The secretary of state’s office released figures showing over 70 percent of whites had voted early. (The Voting Rights Act requires a racial breakdown of votes.) The early black voter turnout, fueled during the Nov. 4 general election campaign with Obama at the top of the Democratic ticket, has dropped significantly,
Alexis Scott, publisher of the state’s prominent African-American newspaper in Atlanta, glumly predicts a Chambliss win because of a low black turnout. In fact, Obama advisors made a conscious decision not to have the president-elect come to Georgia to campaign because, after all, the state supported McCain by four points and the state GOP has a history of getting its absentee ballots sent in and its faithful conservative base to the polls. Pundits of all political stripes basically agree there was no need for Obama, who is busy getting positive headlines by introducing his new Cabinet members and preparing for his January inauguration, to be tagged a “loser” with no clout in a runoff election in a decidedly “Red” state.
Democrats are worrying, too, that the Palin appearances are attracting more blue collar votes to their opponents. The final Pain rally at the Gwinnett County Arena drew some 3,000 people — well over half of them blue collar workers and young people under the age of 30. A large truck parked outside the arena sported a “Mechanic for Chambliss and Palin” sign, and dozens of construction workers – some of them wearing their hard hats– had obviously come straight from their worksites.
Palin didn’t disappoint, hitting familiar themes from the general election campaign such as the need to fight for lower taxes, smaller government, a redoubling of our national security efforts and “government reform” — all of which she said Chambliss would stand for. One of the biggest roars from the crowd came when the plucky governor flatly declared that the senator would say “no” to any infringement on Second Amendment firearms rights. She also repeatedly underscored Chambliss’ longtime commitment to “the right to life of the unborn.” By contrast, former state legislator Martin had maintained an anti-gun and pro-choice record — and he has been reeling in rural areas from a barrage of attacks by the National Rifle Association over the past two weeks.
Palin concluded every appearance by calling for a “rebuilding of the Republican Party starting in Georgia” with the re-election of Chambliss. She reminded Republican candidates that they must appeal to “the working class” — which elicited another big round of applause from those hard harts and mechanics.
The return of Chambliss to the Senate chamber in January, of course, would deny the Democrats a filibuster-breaking majority. If the tracking polls are accurate, and a Palin-energized base turns out, it appears that Georgia’s Republicans will have built a firewall to protect their incumbent and their party’s ability to filibuster radical Obama policies.