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  •   Georgia's GOP School Board Chief Likely to Run for Gingrich's Seat

    By Thomas B. Edsall
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Tuesday, November 10, 1998; Page A23

    Johnny Isakson, the chairman of Georgia's state school board and a Republican moderate, will enter the special election race to replace retiring Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) later this week, according to sources close to him.

    Isakson, who served as minority leader in the Georgia state House and twice ran for statewide office, would be the automatic front-runner in the staunchly Republican, suburban Atlanta district.

    The date of the special election remains uncertain, because Gingrich has not specified the date of his resignation from the House. Gov. Zell Miller (D) will have 10 days after Gingrich leaves office to set the date; the contest must be held at least 30 days after the order is issued.

    Many state officials believe the election will be held in the first few weeks of 1999. Although the governor can choose either a partisan or nonpartisan contest, officials expect Miller to opt for a nonpartisan election. If no candidate secures more than 50 percent in the balloting, there would be a runoff between the top two vote-getters.

    A nonpartisan contest, in which the candidates' party allegiance is not printed on the ballot, would boost the chances of a Democrat because the overwhelmingly GOP electorate in Cobb and Gwinnett counties would not necessarily know the candidate's partisan ties.

    Democrats, including state party Chairman Dave Worley, have suggested that 1998 Senate candidate and 1996 Gingrich challenger Michael Coles could be the party's best shot to take the seat.

    Coles, the wealthy founder of the Great American Cookie Co., ran better than expected in the Senate race, losing to incumbent Paul Coverdell (R) 52 percent to 45 percent. Beth Shipp, who ran Coles's Senate bid, said Coles is out of town and she has not been able to discuss the congressional election with him.

    Another potential Democratic candidate is former representative George "Buddy" Darden, who was swept out of office in 1994, but he has signaled little interest in a House bid.

    On the Republican side, there are a number of politicians in addition to Isakson, a wealthy real estate dealer, who have signaled interest in running. Perhaps the most conservative is state Rep. Mitchell Kaye. The others include state GOP Chair Rusty Paul, state Rep. Randy Sauder and former state senators Clint Day and Charles Clay.

    While some Republicans are expected to drop out if Isakson gets in, Kaye said he welcomes the chance for an ideological confrontation, noting that he is known "as the Newt Gingrich of the Georgia House." At the end of the last legislative session, Kaye said, he irritated Democratic leaders so much that House Speaker Tom Murphy "tried to take a swing at me."

    Isakson is a rarity in southern politics, an abortion rights Republican. In his unsuccessful bid to win the GOP Senate nomination in 1996, he ran ads declaring his support for abortion rights, announcing, with his wife and daughter by his side, "I trust the women of Georgia to make the right choice."

    In 1990, Isakson won the GOP nomination for governor, only to lose the general election to Miller. After that, he won a state Senate seat. In 1996, he lost the GOP U.S. Senate nomination to Guy Millner, who went on to lose the general election to Sen. Max Cleland (D).

    Sources close to Isakson said he will probably set up a campaign committee this week and formally announce soon after.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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