Saxby Chambliss (I)
Personal: Married, two grown children, two grandchildren
Political experience: U.S senator, U.S. representative
Campaign Web site: www.saxby.org
Personal: Married, four grown children
Political experience: state representative, 1983-2001
Campaign Web site: www.martinforsenate.com
Profression: Accountant, attorney
Personal: Married, two children
Political experience: candidate for U.S. Senate, 2004, and lieutenant governor, 2006
Campaign Web site: www.buckleyforsenate.com
It’s been 22 years since Hall County voted for a Democrat in a general election.
It was 1986 and Wyche Fowler, a Democratic Atlanta congressman, was challenging incumbent U.S. Sen. Mack Mattingly, a Republican from St. Simons Island.
By a 645 vote margin, Hall County voted for Fowler, 8,371 to 7,726. When Fowler ran for re-election in 1992, the county chose Republican Paul Coverdell.
With the exception of a nonpartisan special election for the U.S. Senate in 2000, when Democrat Zell Miller was elected to serve the unexpired term of Coverdell, who died in 1999, Hall County has been safe territory for Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate.
Four years ago, Hall County went for Saxby Chambliss over U.S. Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., by a nearly 3-to-1 margin.
Chambliss had been considered a shoo-in for re-election, however, the race has tightened and both the Republican and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committees have poured thousands of dollars into the race between Chambliss and former state Rep. Jim Martin, D-Atlanta.The issues at the forefront are Chambliss’ support for a national sales tax, which would replace the current income tax, as well as his vote for the $700 billion financial institution bailout.
Chambliss has responded with a television spot suggesting Martin, who served as commissioner of the Georgia Department of Human Resources under Miller and Gov. Sonny Perdue, was responsible for the death of children while he headed the agency.
The two men, and their Libertarian opponent, Allen Buckley, squared off in a television debate this past weekend.
"This is a personal attack on me. It’s inaccurate," Martin said, suggesting the techniques were similar to the ones Chambliss used six years ago in a bitter race against Cleland.
Chambliss defended the spot as a statement on Martin’s leadership. Asked if Martin was to blame for the deaths, Chambliss replied "absolutely not."
"But it’s an issue of leadership. What happened was a terrible tragedy, and it happened under his watch," the Moultrie Republican shot back.
Chambliss countered that Martin should prevail upon leaders of his party in Washington to stop running a pair of new ads he says misrepresent the "fair tax," which he supports. The plan would create a national sales tax and erase the income tax.
"He can say ‘I deplore this,’" Chambliss said. "It’s wrong. It’s misleading, and I would ask that he do that."
Martin demurred, saying that under federal election law he cannot coordinate activities with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which is spending more than $500,000 to air the spots in Georgia. He said the spots are "factually accurate" but said the outside spots take the attention off faulty "Saxby economics" that have helped contribute to the nation’s financial woes.
Buckley called the bickering "sad."
"I’d like to stick to the issues," he said.
Buckley returned to his signature issue: reining in out-of-control spending. He said entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security must be cut to keep the nation’s economy afloat.
"You’re destroying the future of my kids, and it’s wrong," Buckley scolded Chambliss.
Martin and Chambliss took opportunities to distance themselves from their respective party leaders as they seek out moderate and independent voters.
Chambliss said he has disagreed with President Bush on the Farm Bill and came to part ways with him on an immigration measure.
"When the president’s wrong on something, I’m against him," Chambliss said.
Martin said he doesn’t agree with Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s comment that tax cuts for the wealthy would redistribute wealth.
"I don’t agree with the concept of using the tax code to spread the wealth," said the Atlanta Democrat.
The closeness of the race is now drawing a "what-if" scenario that harkens back to Fowler’s failed re-election bid in 1992. In the November general election, Fowler was the top vote-getter, but failed to get the required majority of more than 50 percent.
That threw the election into a runoff, three days before Thanksgiving, in which Coverdell was elected to the U.S. Senate.
The Georgia General Assembly, controlled in the 1990s by Democrats, voted after the Fowler defeat to change the law regarding a majority vote. The law was changed in 2006, requiring the winner to receive a majority of all votes cast in the race.
If neither Chambliss or Martin gets 50 percent, that could set up a Dec. 2 runoff between the two.
If that happens, and Democrats pick up enough Senate seats nationally to pull within striking distance of a filibuster-proof 60-member majority, the harsh glare of the national spotlight would turn to Georgia.
Big money and big-name politicos would descend upon the state. Attack ads would flood the airwaves for weeks in what could be one of the nastiest political races the state has seen in recent years.
"I wouldn’t say it’s likely but it is definitely more than a remote possibility," said Emory University political science professor Alan Abramowitz.
Buckley would only need to pull a few percentage points if the contest between Chambliss and Martin is close, he said.
There’s certainly a statewide precedent: Libertarian Garrett Michael Hayes won just shy of 4 percent in the race for Georgia governor’s race two years ago.
Polls suggest the Senate race in Georgia has tightened considerably.
A sure sign that the race was competitive came when the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee decided to pour thousands of dollars into the state on ads targeting Chambliss.
Early voting turnout in Georgia also has been high, particularly in heavily Democratic metro-Atlanta and among black voters. That’s believed to be because of Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama, but Martin could ultimately benefit from Obama’s long coattails.
The Chambliss and Martin campaigns maintain they’re working hard to win the race outright.
"We plan to win Nov. 4," Chambliss spokeswoman Michelle Hitt Grasso said.
Martin spokeswoman Kate Hansen said: "We’re focused on winning this in Nov. 4, but on Nov. 5 we’ll be prepared either way.
The Associated Press contributed to this report