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Crawford: A handful of state races to watch Tuesday

POSTED: November 6, 2008 5:00 a.m.

I don't need to remind you what next Tuesday is, and you've probably heard all you ever want to hear about the national race for president. But what about Georgia?

The most suspenseful race for Georgians is still that Senate battle where Saxby Chambliss is trying to hold off Democrat Jim Martin.

This was once an election that looked like an easy win for Chambliss, but over the past month the polling gap between the two candidates has slowly closed. Even with all the TV spots he has been running, Chambliss can't seem to shake off Martin.

The gap has also been closing between Barack Obama and John McCain among Georgia's voters in the presidential race, although that one is not as close as the Senate race.

More African-Americans are going to vote in Georgia than ever before, but will it be enough to pull off a upset in either race? I will predict, without a lot of confidence, that McCain and Chambliss will hold on and carry the state. But I won't be terribly surprised if I'm wrong.

In the congressional races, it's almost guaranteed that Georgia's entire House delegation will be re-elected, just as it was two years ago.

The only two districts that were even considered competitive this year are the ones represented by Democrats Jim Marshall and John Barrow, who won their races by razor-thin margins in 2006.

Barrow looks a lot safer now. The black vote in his Savannah-to-Augusta district now exceeds 42 percent and he has swamped his Republican opponent, John Stone, in the fundraising arena.

Marshall must face a more impressive GOP opponent in Rick Goddard, but he still had more than a two-to-one money advantage going into the campaign's final weeks. The only hope for Goddard is that enough voters in this middle Georgia district are angry at Marshall for voting in favor of the Wall Street bailout bill.

At the legislative level, there will be no change in the General Assembly's balance of power.

Republicans will retain majority control of the Senate and the House of Representatives, primarily because of a big assist from the Democratic Party.

There is at least one Senate district and six or more House districts that could have been trouble for Republicans because of this year's strong Democratic trend. In each of these districts, however, the GOP is assured of winning the seat because the Democratic Party failed to persuade any candidates to qualify.

If you took those uncontested but competitive House districts and added to them the four or five Republican-held seats that the GOP leadership concedes they will probably lose on Nov. 4, that would have put Democrats very close to regaining majority control of the lower chamber.

Because of their poor candidate recruiting, Democrats missed a golden opportunity to win legislative seats in a favorable election cycle they probably won't see again for 20 or 30 years. House Speaker Glenn Richardson and his Republican colleagues should send a big bouquet of roses to Democratic Party Chair Jane Kidd as thanks for the big favor she did for them.

There are a few House races worth watching as the returns come in election night.

In Rome, Republican Rep. Katie Dempsey goes against Democrat Bob Puckett in a rematch of race that she won by less than 200 votes in 2006.

Rep. Mike Jacobs, who was elected twice as a Democrat by DeKalb County voters before switching parties, is trying to fend off independent candidate Michelle Conlon. Rep. Jill Chambers, whose DeKalb district voted for John Kerry in the 2004 presidential race, has her hands full running against Democrat Chris Huttman.

Further south, Rep. Allen Freeman of Macon is in the fight of his life against James "Bubber" Epps, a Democrat who was once the Twiggs County commission chairman. Rep. Austin Scott of Tifton is going up against Democrat John Tibbetts for the second election in a row.

There are some endangered Democratic incumbents also, such as Rep. Jeanette Jamieson of Toccoa. She won a close race two years ago and the Republicans are trying to knock her out this year with challenger Michael Harden.

All of these legislative elections, along with the U.S. Senate race, could swing either way. That's all the more reason for everyone to get out and vote next week.

Tom Crawford is the editor of Capitol Impact's Georgia Report, an Internet news service that covers government and politics in Georgia. His column appears Thursdays.



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