Today, Georgia Democrats go to the polls to select the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate, for the race against incumbent Republican Saxby Chambliss. Today's runoff election, which pits former state legislator Jim Martin against DeKalb County CEO Vernon Jones, is a rare instance of a primary in which either candidate could win, but only one candidate stands any kind of chance of making the general election even slightly competitive.
That candidate is Jim Martin.
The public polling for the general election, such as it is, has indicated that Jones would be a disastrous candidate in the general election, while Martin is competitive in polling right now. Jones' polling is so weak, in fact, and his personal history so controversial, that Swing State Project goes so far as to call him a "walking train wreck" of a general-election candidate.
Vernon Jones is, by all accounts, highly intelligent, extremely charismatic and a top-notch campaigner. He is also a candidate with a history of accusations of violence against women (and one of rape), and a candidate whose greatest political legacy is having endorsed and voted twice for President Bush.
Hardly the political judgment one would seek in a Democratic candidate for federal office.
As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution put it:
He is a man of large talents and large flaws, but those flaws of temperament, character and judgment are so large as to disqualify him from consideration for higher office.
Meanwhile, here is the Journal-Constitution's recent endorsement of Jim Martin:
As a Vietnam veteran with a long and admirable career in public service and the law, Martin has the background and credentials to represent Georgia well. As a state legislator, Martin was known as a workhorse, someone who knew the issues and who could work with colleagues to get things done. That same combination of wisdom, hard work and collegiality served Martin well as head of the state Department of Human Services under Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes and then Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue.
I had the opportunity to speak with Jim Martin yesterday, and found him to be exceptionally thoughtful, genuine and frank. He noted the recent difficulties that Democrats have had running statewide in Georgia, but stressed that Georgia had been a competitive state until recently, even at the presidential level (Bill Clinton won the state in 1992, and lost narrowly in 1996). He noted that part of the reason for the strong Republican trend in Georgia over the last decade has been the striking Republican success at registering new voters, especially as the state's population expanded rapidly over the past 15 years. The presidential campaign of Barack Obama is intent not only on campaigning in Georgia this fall but on registering half a million new Democratic voters. If they can actually succeed in so doing, this will be a tremendous boon not only to Obama's campaign, but to the U.S. Senate nominee, whoever he may be.
He understands the challenges he would face (should he win today) against an entrenched incumbent like Saxby Chambliss, one who, as Tondee's Tavern noted, has already reserved a stunning $5.2 million of advertising time for the fall elections. He also understands that as one of the chief enablers of the disastrous Bush economy, Chambliss has been personally responsible for the squeeze on working Georgians. In fact, Martin is about as sharp a contrast to Saxby Chambliss as one could hope for from a Democratic nominee; he opposes telecom immunity, for example, along with the 2005 bankruptcy bill. You can guess how the senior Senator from Georgia voted on these.
So what will happen tonight? It's difficult to say, given how low turnout is expected to be. The Journal-Constitution pegs turnout at 10% or less:
Turnout is expected to be razor-thin for Tuesday's runoff in which DeKalb CEO Vernon Jones and Jim Martin face off to see which candidate will run against Republican U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss and Libertarian Allen Buckley in November.
Only 18 percent of the state's registered voters bothered to go to the polls for the July 15 primary that saw the five-man Democratic field in the Senate race trimmed to just Jones and Martin. Come Tuesday, the primary's low turnout could be cut in half, or even less, in the largely under-the-radar race.
Jones led the first round of the primary with 41% of the vote, but Martin (who finished with 34%), received the endorsements of his two closest rivals, Dale Cardwell and Rand Knight). We'll have the results when they're in tonight.