Those Up for Reelection Have Explaining to Do

By Krissah Williams Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Rep. Jim Marshall had planned to be in his rural southwest Georgia district yesterday to raise money and meet with voters. Instead, the Democrat was in his Capitol Hill office with bags under his eyes, preparing to cut a 30-second television spot that would explain to his constituents, including the nearly 1,000 angry people who have called and written his office in the past four days, why he voted for the bailout plan.

It was an unexpected and unwelcome twist in the final weeks of a difficult reelection race for Marshall, who is among the most vulnerable Democrats in Congress.

Marshall is a conservative Democrat in a Republican-leaning district. His opponent, Republican Rick Goddard, has raised more than $770,000. Local papers have called Marshall the congressman "most exposed" by his vote, and he is left with less than five weeks to convince his constituents that he made the right move.

What the third-term congressman wants to say to them is: "You didn't send me up here to do the easy stuff."

"I'm just furious about this," Marshall said, quickly downing a bowl of tomato soup in his office yesterday. "Nobody here wants to bail out Wall Street. That's not what this is."

Marshall said he became persuaded that the financial crisis was dire after talking to mid-size bank officials in his district, watching the financial news and reading reports from experts. He did not like everything in the compromise bill, he said, but was compelled to vote for it because he believes the economy is at a "frightening tipping point." He also knows his vote could be a political tipping point in his race.

The vote "could hurt him," said Emory University political scientist Merle Black. "It depends on how it plays out and whether voters reevaluate his vote. If public opinion changes, he might look like someone who took a big political risk and won."

Goddard's campaign office did not respond to three calls seeking comment yesterday.

One of Marshall's constituents, Mary Alice Carter, 57, is still skeptical about the bill. But she said that if there are greater protections for taxpayers in a new version, she might change her mind.

"I think [Marshall] was voting what he really felt was best, but I think they were trying to hurry without really writing a good bill," she said. "I don't think it hurt him with me, but it may have with a lot of other people."

Carter voted for Marshall two years ago but is undecided this year, and she is at the heart of the constituency he must win over.

"You have a lot of folks out there who pay their taxes. They don't have IRAs. They don't belong to country clubs, but they worry about their financial security and their future. They don't know how this helps them," said Marshall, who worked as a lawyer and law professor who specialized in financial solvency and business matters. "The answer is the bill is designed to kill a major problem in the credit industry that's choking credit all over the country."

Marshall knows something about close elections, as Republicans have repeatedly targeted his seat. Two years ago, he narrowly defeated his opponent, 51 percent to 49 percent. It was the second closest any Democratic incumbent came to losing his seat.

In a meeting with Georgia Democrats on Sunday, Marshall said, "I'm willing to give up my seat over this." But not without a fight, he added yesterday.

"This is no time for wimps," he said. "It's a time to get out there and do the right thing. Take your political lumps and do what you can to help the country."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company