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Crawford: Winning Georgia is a tall order for Obama

POSTED: September 24, 2008 5:01 a.m.

David Letterman has often joked that this presidential campaign has been going on for so long it feels like it started back in 1997.

There are times when I agree with him, but with the completion of the Democratic and Republican national conventions, it's almost possible to believe that the end is in sight. About eight weeks from now, we should finally know the identity of the country's next president. The campaigns of the major party nominees are getting down to business.

Georgia has voted for the Republican nominee, by larger and larger margins, in each of the last three presidential elections. Is there any reason to think that this year will be any different?

Democratic nominee Barack Obama is certainly acting like he believes he has a chance to win Georgia. His staffers and volunteers have been registering thousands of new voters since last spring and the campaign has opened more than 30 field offices around the state, the most recent one in Austell over the weekend.

The Obama campaign now has grassroots organizers working out of offices in locations scattered from Albany to Gainesville, and from Valdosta to Suwanee. That's a lot of money and resources to devote to a state unless you really do think you have a shot at winning it.

But even with this level of commitment from the Democratic nominee, it's still hard to see how Georgia's electoral votes would go to someone other than the Republican candidate, John McCain.

After all, George W. Bush won the state by a margin of 17 percentage points just four years ago. Even if the Democrats could cut that margin in half, which would be quite an achievement, that would still leave them 8 or 9 percentage points behind.

The biggest danger to McCain in Georgia has been a distinct lack of enthusiasm for him among party activists. He finished a weak second in the state's presidential primary in February and very nearly ended up in third place because many conservatives here think he's been a little too moderate on issues like abortion, immigration and campaign finance reform.

"There were still some hardcore Republicans who were gradually warming up to McCain, but it was taking a while," Sen. Saxby Chambliss noted last week. "The conservatives were looking to John, very closely, to see what he was going to do with respect to a vice president."

McCain may have solved his problems with Georgia Republicans by choosing Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his vice presidential candidate. Palin stands with her party's hard-right factions on religious and social issues, and her inclusion on the ticket definitely appears to have fired up the evangelicals who make up a large portion of the GOP base.

Chambliss said he attended a Republican campaign rally in Brunswick on the same day that McCain first announced Palin as his running mate.

"These were people who didn't even want McCain as their second or third choice, he was their fourth or fifth choice," Chambliss said. "It was like a light bulb coming on. They were saying, ‘Great choice; I'm ready to go to work today.'"

That's a view shared by other top Republicans like Gov. Sonny Perdue, who exulted after the Palin choice, "Let Obama and Joe Biden come to Georgia, spend as much money as they want and have their say, and we're still just going to wax them."

As conservative as Georgia voters tend to be, the pairing of Palin with McCain on the Republican ticket most likely will be the energy boost that sews up the state for them (if, indeed, the state was ever in doubt).

Nationally, the picture is not so clear. Although Palin is a big favorite with the Republicans' base of evangelical Christians because of her conservative viewpoints, that stance may not be quite as attractive to swing voters who prefer a more moderate approach to issues.

In the end, as we know from past elections, vice presidential candidates are not going to determine the outcome. When voters get around to casting their ballots on Nov. 4, they are going to be making a choice between McCain and Obama for the country's top job, not between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden.

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



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