- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin added a jolt of star power Monday to the final day of campaigning in Georgia’s closely watched runoff election, drawing huge crowds for incumbent Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss and imploring voters to send him back to Washington to check Democrats’ domination of Congress.

“The eyes of the nation are on you, Georgia,” Mrs. Palin, who became a national phenomenon as the Republican vice-presidential nominee, told an Augusta crowd. “And the eyes of the nation are on what happens here tomorrow, what direction our country will go.”

A win by Democrat challenger Jim Martin on Tuesday would put the party one vote away from a filibuster-proof 60-vote Senate supermajority to ram through its agenda, with one other Senate race still to be decided in a recount in Minnesota.

Mr. Martin, a former state lawmaker, also looked for a celebrity boost to energize the campaign after the long holiday weekend, stumping with prominent Georgia Democrats, including Rep. John Lewis, and capping the day at a rally with Atlanta rapper Ludacris.

His supporters hoped for a visit by President-elect Barack Obama, who took a pass, some say, in an effort to stay just above the partisan fray and avoid suffering an early political loss by tying himself too closely to the underdog Mr. Martin.

Georgia did not back Mr. Obama in his White House victory, instead going for Republican nominee Sen. John McCain by 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.

The president-elect did record a radio ad and a robocall for Mr. Martin.

But an in-person appearance promised a more powerful boost for black voter turnout, which is critical for any Democrat running in the heavily conservative state where Republicans also hold the other Senate seat, the governor’s office and control of the state General Assembly.

In early voting, the black vote does not appear energized for Mr. Martin - a good omen for Mr. Chambliss.

Less than 23 percent of the early voters for the runoff have been black, a drop from the surge of black voters in the run-up to the general election. Black voters made up more than 34 percent of the 2 million early voters before the Nov. 4 contest when Mr. Obama was on the ballot.

About 36 percent of the 500,000 early voters in the runoff were white males - typically a solid Republican constituency - up from about 27 percent in early voting in the general election.

The Senate runoff was triggered when no candidate won 50 percent of the vote. Mr. Chambliss fell just short with 49.8 percent, while Mr. Martin garnered 46.8 percent and Libertarian Allen Buckley took 3.4 percent Only the top two candidates advanced to the runoff.

At the Chambliss rally, Mrs. Palin said the high stakes of the runoff included the first chance of a comeback for the battered Republican Party.

“We’re got our work cut out for us if we are to lead again in changing Washington for the better and to put government back on your side,” she said. “It takes rebuilding. And I say, let that begin here in Georgia tomorrow.”

The rally at James Brown Arena in Augusta, one of four stops she made with Mr. Chambliss, attracted several thousand people and vendors hawking pink “Palin 2012” T-shirts and “Palin for President: You Go Girl” buttons.

The battle to tilt the Senate’s balance of power lured a who’s who of politicos to Georgia, including former President Bill Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore campaigning for Mr. Martin.

Mr. Chambliss racked up visits by as Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain and the party’s other presidential contenders, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

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