By tradition, Georgia's multitude of politicians have used this deepest part of summer to lie low, letting the cicadas and the air conditioners provide the background noise until the start of the fall political season.
But this month Georgians by the thousands have been startled to come upon their senior senator, Democrat Herman E. Talmadge, vigorously pumping constituents' hands at hog-packing factories, peanut laboratories and gatherings of perspiring Jaycees across the state.
Talmadge, 66, with his hand outstretched, his tie askew and his shirt showing the ravages of the hot Georgia sunshine, is the very picture this August of a hard-running candidate.
The oddity is that, at least for the moment, Talmadge is running against himself. No one has announced opposition to the 23-year Senate veteran when he comes up for reelection next year.
Behind this unusual flurry of activity is what some Georgians refer to as Talmadge's "Washington problem." The problem was articulated this week by a young attorney from Jasper, Ga., after Talmadge finished a long day of campaigning through the northern part of the state.
"There's only one man in this state can beat Herman Talmadge," said the lawyer. "That man is Herman Talmadge. The question is, has Herman beat Herman?"
Nobody here is sure of the answer.
When the Senate reconvenes next month, Talmadge faces almost certain castigation by the six-member Select Committee on Ethics, which has been sitting in judgement on allegations of financial wrongdoing by Talmadge.
Talmadge also took a heavily publicized midnight plane ride to a federal alcoholic center in California last winter. After drying out for more than a month, he emerged for eight weeks of daily hearings and headlines by the ethics panel.
The impact here has been substantial. A statewide poll taken in February by the Atlanta-based Darden Research Corp. found more than 85 percent of those polled knew of Talmadge's financial troubles. About 42 percent said they felt Talmadge intentionally mishandled campaign contributions and Senate funds.
Perhaps the most significant statistic was a more than 2 to 1 preference for Georgi's popular Gov. George Busbee over Talmadge, should Busbee choose to run for the Senate next year.
"I don't think there's a question in the senator's mind, or among his advisers, that this ethics committee thing has had an effect," Talmadge's press secretary, Gordon Roberts, said Friday.
The Talmadge camp's response has been a speech-making blitz by the senator. Talmadge has scheduled more than 25 speeches during the Senate recess. At each stop aides have been seeking out reporters to interview the senator.
"This time," said Robert, "we are making an unusual effort to get the senator to the media."
The pairing is not a particularly comfortable one for Talmadge. Newspaper reports have been the major source of information about his problems, and he appears far more at ease stumping the Georgia outback than he does sitting in an Atlanta television studio.
But the message he has been preaching to one and all has been vintage Talmadge - a blend of flag-waving patriotism, a little folksy humor, an unmistakable reminder of his Senate power and, almost as an afterthought, a mention of what he repeatedly calls "the last 14 months, the most difficult period of my life."
In a speech tonight to more than 1,000 supporters gathered for the annual Talmadge birthday celebration, an event that has become a political fixture in the state, Talmadge showed little of what some have perceived to be a new spirit of humility.
Talmadge looked on solemnly as the Rev. Martin Luther King Sr. told the crowd "to give honor to one who needs it at this time."
And he beamed and sipped from a glass of iced tea while the crowd sang "Happy Birthday" and a three-piece combo played "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow."
The events of the past months have been particularly trying," Talmadge told the birthday crowd.
He denied any "intentional wrong-doing" in his finances and said he is "at my peak both physically and mentally.
He has repeated that message throughout the state in an effort to lay to rest rumors that he might drop out of a 1980 race if the Senate takes action against him this fall.
Earlier this week Talmadge shook hands with workers at the massive Lockheed-Georgia aircraft plant in Marietta for 2 1/2 hours, ignoring the withering heat. Not one question about his finances was raised by the workers.
In Ellijay, a small town in the foothills of the Appalachians in north Georgia, Talmadge sat patiently through a long introduction in the burning sun before addressing about 400 people gathered for a birthday barbecue along the banks of the Coosawatee River.
He blamed his problems, as he did before the Senate ethics panel, on "some loose bookkeeping in my office."
When the senator called for a show of hands among those who still supported him, nearly 400 hands shot into the air.
Nowhere along Talmadge's trail this week, however, was there any sign of what he has said is the common practice of constituents pressing money on their senator.
Talmadge's financial troubles began last year when he tried to explain to reporters that small cash gifts from his constituents paid for his day-to-day expenses. None of the senator's aides has acknowleged seeing him get such gifts.
Although Talmadge has received a generally favorable reception here this month, some Georgia political insiders believe that the situation in Washington could chill that attitude quickly. The possibility that Talmadge could be stripped of his committee posts by the Senate, while highly unlikely, is one such potentially chilling factor.
"The South is hung up on seniority," said one political insider. "If the Senate strips him of his seniority, he's finished. If they don't, he's still a powerful force here."
Another longshot possibility is the entrance of Busbee into the 1980 race. But the governor has assured Talmadge both publicly and privately that he has no intention of running for the Senate.
There is also the chance that the Justice Department or the Internal Revenue Service could move against Talmadge. When his former aide and chief accuser, Daniel Minchew, pled guilty recently to a felony charge growing out of the Talmadge case, Justice Department sources indicated they still were interested in Talmadge.
In the senator's favor, however, is the lack of any strong opposition other than Busbee. The Darden poll in February that showed Talmadge losing to Busbee also showed him beating Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson and Democratic Rep. Dawson Mathis, both of whom have shown interest in Talmadge's seat.
The only other potentially serious opponent so far is Lt. Gov. Zell Miller. Miller is a popular politician here and has given signs he wants to run against Talmadge. But he is likely to clash with Jackson for the black and liberal votes. Talmadge strategists have all but written off the state's 22 percent black vote anyway.
And finally Talmadge strategists believe the senator is likely to be helped by the age of Georgia's voters. Young Georgians generally have been apathetic at the polls. The most consistent voters are the older ones, who recall the power of the Talmadge name in Georgia.
But even Talmadge's most loyal supporters concede that these advantages could disappear if things go badly in the Senate this fall.
"There are some things they could do that could hurt Herman badly," said former representative Phillip Landrum, who helped organize the Ellijay barbecue. "But so far they ain't hurt Herman down here yet." CAPTION: Picture, Talmadge, at birthday celebration with former Georgia governor and Mrs. Carl Sanders, returns dollar bills he autographed for an unidentified man. AP