Promising Signs in Georgia Run-Off Results

From Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a take on the results of the December Senate Run-Off in Georgia, where Saxby Chambliss trounced his opponent by 15 points in a race that saw turnout much closer to mid-term election:

It can be precarious to draw global conclusions from a single state, yet the Georgia Senate race does give Republicans some hope for 2010 and Democrats a cause for concern. In short, while the latter can turn out their large constituency with Barack Obama atop the ticket, can they do so when he is not on the ballot?

In Georgia, the answer was no. Obama pulled 47 percent of the presidential vote–a losing share to be sure, but the highest for any Democratic presidential candidate in the Peach State since native son Jimmy Carter in 1980. Helped by the outpouring of African-American support for Obama, Martin drew 46.8 percent of the vote, putting him only 3 points behind Chambliss.

But that was Martin’s high-water mark. In the runoff, he drew barely half as many votes as he had in November, compared to a falloff of roughly one-third in Chambliss’ vote. In a number of populous counties with a significant African-American population, the runoff vote for Martin was less than half as large as Obama’s tally a month earlier. Among the counties in this group: Those that include the cities of Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Macon and Savannah.

Martin sought to spur Democratic turnout in the runoff by tying himself closely to Obama. He argued that he would be a loyal supporter of the new president, with one flier declaring: “Jim Martin for Senate, Don’t Stop With Barack.”

But there were no Obama coattails without Obama himself. He sent campaign volunteers to the state, cut a radio ad for Martin, and recorded an automated phone message for the candidate. But conspicuously, he chose not to campaign personally in support of Martin.

The results plus similar outcome seems to indicate that we haven’t quite entered a new Democratic era.

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