In what has been the hardest-fought and most-watched of any race for anything in Georgia this year, State Rep. Doug Collins won the Republican runoff for Congress in the Peach State‚??s newly-carved 9th District. In overcoming radio talk show host and conservative movement favorite Martha Zoller by a margin of about 55 to 45 percent, Collins is a virtual ‚??cinch‚?Ě in the fall to represent the new and heavily Republican 9th.
Identified strongly as the legislative floor leader for Republican Gov. Nathan Deal, Collins benefited from robocalls from Deal at the close of the campaign. Although Deal — a resident of the district — stopped short of endorsing Collins, the governor made it clear through the calls that he and the lawmaker were close associates and friends.
Zoller tried to paint her contest with Collins as a clash between a tea party-backed outsider and ‚??the establishment.‚?Ě In many ways it was. The broadcaster-candidate was supported by most tea party groups in the district, by Georgia Right-to-Life, the Susan B. Anthony List, Sarah Palin, and former presidential candidates Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, and Newt Gingrich.
She also hit hard on the tax issue, repeatedly slamming Collins for his support to place the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Tax (TSPLOT) to fund transportation projects on the ballot. This is a measure that national anti-tax advocates such as Grover Norquist as well as local ‚??ax-the-taxers‚?Ě opposed vociferously and which went down to landslide defeat when it was on the ballot last month. Zoller hit this hard, pointing out that she was on the opposite side of the tax issue as her opponent and the governor.
But Collins blunted the assault from the right. He had the backing of the National Rifle Association and appeared to take a harder line on illegal immigration than Zoller in their stormy pre-run-off debate — Zoller said she opposed President Obama‚??s relaxing of restrictions on certain illegal immigrants on the grounds they were not done through congressional action, while Collins said he would have opposed them had he been in Congress.
Many conservatives concluded that, given the closeness of the race, Zoller might have won with the backing of a ‚??SuperPAC‚?Ě to run a well-funded independent expenditure and overcome Collins‚?? financial advantage. None came forward. The Club for Growth, known for such efforts in other primaries, never stepped up for Zoller.
Throughout Republican primaries this year, outsiders and tea partiers have won and lost different contests. In Georgia-9, Doug Collins may have demonstrated how one from the establishment can underscore certain conservative issues over others and, in the process, win.