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Obama lends his voice to Senate runoff

- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 30, 2008

ATLANTA | President-elect Barack Obama's promise of post-partisan politics got put on hold as he lent his voice to the roaring battle over Georgia's runoff election for the U.S. Senate, trying to help Democrats win a supermajority that would let them push their agenda through Congress.

Mr. Obama took time off from transition work to record a radio ad and robocalls to promote Democrat Jim Martin's bid to unseat incumbent Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss and put Democrats one vote away from a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority, with one other Senate race still in doubt -- in Minnesota.

The Martin campaign also boasts that its get-out-the-vote operation for the election Tuesday was supplied by Mr. Obama's ground team from the presidential race in Georgia and surrounding states, though Obama aides insist the former campaign workers -- about 200 by Mr. Martin's count -- are acting independently of the president-elect.

Mr. Obama has resisted calls for a visit to Georgia, likely a move to stay just above the partisan fray and to avoid suffering an early political loss by tying himself too closely to the underdog Mr. Martin.

But his audiotaped pleas and the influx of his get-out-the-vote organizers underscore the high stakes in this bitter partisan feud, with both sides inundating the Georgia airwaves with recriminations, charges and countercharges in a flood of attack ads.

"You can go post-partisan when you win," said Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, who headlined a get-out-the-vote rally for Mr. Martin at Spelman Collage, a historically black college for women in Atlanta.

"This is a contest," she told The Washington Times. "What do you want, the Democrats to disarm?"

Far from disarming, Democrats are unloading an arsenal of attacks, mostly accusing Mr. Chambliss of contributing to the country's economic crisis by supporting President Bush and criticizing him for opposing Mr. Obama's plan for middle-class tax cuts while voting for the $700 billion Wall Street bailout. Mr. Obama voted for the bailout himself.

Mr. Martin hopes Mr. Obama's coattails are longer now than they were in the general election, when Mr. Martin finished about 110,000 votes behind the incumbent Mr. Chambliss. The runoff was made necessary when neither candidate captured 50 percent of the vote, owing to a third-party candidacy.

Mr. Obama won the presidency but lost Georgia to Republican nominee Sen. John McCain by 52 percent to 47 percent, about a 200,000-vote margin. By some accounts, including that of National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Sen. John Ensign of Nevada, the popularity of Mr. Obama nationwide has grown since he won the presidency.

"Saxby Chambliss has a message for the middle class: sink or swim," says the voiceover in a nautical-themed ad by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which shows a small boat tossing in stormy seas. "He's been a shipwreck for our economy."

Ads by Mr. Chambliss, the Republican Party and conservative groups such as Freedom's Watch hit Mr. Martin for being too liberal for Georgia and a champion of the liberal agenda of Mr. Obama and the Democrat-led Congress. They say he is soft on crime, backs higher taxes, and takes liberal stands on social issues such as opposing parental consent for minors to get abortions.

Mr. Obama strikes a more sedate tone in the robocall that started ringing up Georgians last week.

"I want to urge you to turn out one more time and help elect Jim Martin to the Unites States Senate," Mr. Obama says in the recorded message. "Jim supports my plan to get our economy moving again. Jim Martin is a man of his word, and I know he'll do everything he can in the Senate to help me change Washington and get America moving again."

The message in the call and in most of the TV ads is that the vote Tuesday is critical to the balance of power in Washington. A supermajority would effectively sideline Senate Republicans and allow Democrats to pass whatever legislation they want.

Georgia voters "are sick and tired of what is happening in Washington," Mr. Martin said at a recent press conference. "They want someone to stand up for the middle class. They know that I will do that. ... Yes, the TVs are cluttered with some of the ads, some of them are reprehensible, but that's the nature of politics in this country now."

On the stump, Mr. Chambliss is running as much against Mr. Obama and the Democrat-led Congress as he is against Mr. Martin.

"We know the direction in which they are going to take us, [and] we have the opportunity to make sure that we are that firewall, that 41st vote to make sure that we don't have our taxes raised, to make sure that we have the right kind of judges going to the bench, not liberal activist judges," Mr. Chambliss said at a rally at the Right Wing Tavern in Woodstock, Ga.

"Jim Martin will provide that blank check to do all of those things, ... but you can make the difference," he told the more than 200 people who filled the bar, a focal point of politics in the Republican stronghold of Cherokee County, which is north of Atlanta and key to Mr. Chambliss' runoff strategy.

Mr. Chambliss was joined at the rally by former Republican presidential candidate and former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, one in a parade of political celebrities stumping in Georgia that included Mr. McCain.

On the Democratic side, Mr. Martin garnered visits from former President Bill Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore.

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who became a political star as the Republican vice-presidential nominee, will make about four campaign stops Monday with Mr. Chambliss to jump-start the crucial get-out-the-vote drive after the long holiday weekend.