Palin Campaigns for Sen. Chambliss in Georgia Runoff Election

By Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 2, 2008

DULUTH, Ga., Dec. 1 -- Declaring "I'll tell ya, I've had Georgia on my mind," former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin implored Georgia conservatives on Monday to vote for Sen. Saxby Chambliss in Tuesday's runoff election.

Addressing a rally of several thousand in this Atlanta suburb, several wearing "Palin for President" T-shirts, the Alaska governor warned that President-elect Barack Obama and congressional Democrats will dominate Washington if Republicans don't hold on to still-undecided Senate seats here and in Minnesota.

"We need checks and balances in Washington, D.C., and Saxby will provide the checks and balances that are needed for our democracy," Palin said here during her fourth stop of the day on Chambliss's behalf. "That one vote from your state can make all the difference."

Palin was the latest political celebrity to campaign in the runoff between Chambliss and Democrat Jim Martin. In Minnesota, meanwhile, officials are conducting a recount to determine whether Republican Sen. Norm Coleman indeed defeated Democrat Al Franken. The two races will decide whether Democrats gain a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate of 60 votes; they currently hold 56 seats, with two independents joining their caucus on most issues.

Chambliss beat Martin on Election Day, but his 49.8 percent of the vote fell just short of the 50 percent needed under state law to avoid a runoff. Martin won 46.8 percent of the vote, while Libertarian Allen Buckley forced the runoff by taking a little more than 3 percent.

The first matchup between Chambliss and Martin featured a sharp debate over Congress's approval of a $700 billion Wall Street aid package -- which Chambliss supported and Martin opposed -- but the runoff has been largely about Obama. Both sides see the president-elect as crucial to rallying their most partisan supporters, who normally dominate special elections.

Chambliss and other Republicans say the incumbent senator will serve as a check on Obama, who lost Georgia by five points despite investing heavily in the state. Martin, meanwhile, has continually praised Obama in ads, speeches and campaign literature, and the former state representative has stressed that he will help the incoming president enact his agenda.

To get their voters to show up, both parties have dumped millions of dollars and sent in key operatives and supporters. Former president Bill Clinton and former vice president Al Gore have campaigned alongside Martin. Obama's presidential campaign kept its 25 offices in the state open, dozens of his staffers and volunteers from elsewhere have come to Georgia, and the president-elect taped a radio ad encouraging voters to back Martin. Obama declined a request from the Martin campaign to appear in person.

The Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), and several of his primary opponents -- former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani -- have appeared with Chambliss, and conservative groups have spent more than $2 million attacking Martin and warning about a Washington controlled by Democrats.

With a crowd full of women who shouted her name when she was introduced, Palin said having another Republican vote would help the party's goals on abortion, taxes and a host of other issues. Chambliss aides said her four events drew a total of more than 20,000 people.

Chambliss has declared himself the "firewall" against Democrats in Washington, particularly any attempts to raise taxes and sharply increase spending. "With your help tomorrow, we're going to have that 41st Republican vote," Chambliss told the crowd here.

Some conservatives soured on Chambliss after he backed the Wall Street rescue plan. Looking to win them back, the incumbent has highlighted his opposition to a proposed bailout of auto companies and expressed skepticism of an economic stimulus plan proposed by Obama that could cost hundreds of billions of dollars.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company