Intra-Party Slugfests Define Georgia Primary

By Christine Hall | July 7, 2008 | 8:29pm EDT

( - When Georgia primary voters head to the polls Tuesday, they will settle two House races that have been grabbing national attention for high decibel intra-party squabbling.

In Georgia's fourth congressional district, controversial five-term Democrat Cynthia McKinney faces a challenge for the party's nomination from a former state court judge, Denise Majette. And Republicans have a family feud of their own with two incumbents facing off for the GOP nod in the state's newly redrawn seventh district. Former Clinton impeachment manager Bob Barr is up against John Linder in a battle for the conservative vote. In early results, John Linder was leading Bob Barr 73 percent to 27 percent, with 83 of 170 precincts reporting, and challenger Denise Majette was leading Cynthia McKinney 53 percent to 47 percent with fewer precincts reporting.

McKinney has won previous intra-party challenges, but in the wake of her post-Sept. 11 behavior and comments, many Democrats are reconsidering their support.

First, McKinney made national headlines in October 2001 for pursuing a $10 million charitable contribution from Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal after then-New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani returned the check

The financial gift was intended to help the families of Sept. 11 victims, but the mayor was incensed when the prince seemed to suggest that U.S. Middle East policy contributed to the attacks. The prince urged the U.S. to "re-examine its policies in the Middle East and adopt a more balanced stance toward the Palestinian cause."

Then, in March, McKinney began to accuse the Bush administration of failing to act on warnings of the Sept. 11 attacks.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution has endorsed Majette, calling McKinney's rhetoric "wildly irrational."

McKinney's radio ads compare her challenger, who, like McKinney, is African-American, 40-something woman, to a white, "out-of-control cop" in California who created a national incident by punching a handcuffed black teen (the whole episode captured on videotape). And McKinney's supporters have reportedly dubbed Majette "Tomette" for the latter's support among Republicans and as a variation of the insult, "Uncle Tom."

Merle Black, an Emory University political scientist, says the race is too close to call but that McKinney's precarious hold on her congressional seat is no surprise. More than any policy issue, says Black, "it was McKinney's style of politics" that has hurt her. "It splits whites and blacks," he said.

Black predicts McKinney will receive the "overwhelming majority" of the African-American vote but that enough blacks may peel away and give victory to the challenger. Majette will need 25 percent of the African-American vote to succeed in a district that, in the past, has seen over 90 percent of the black vote go to McKinney, Merle Black said.

If there is a split, Black expects the more affluent African-American areas will go for Majette.

But Majette wouldn't stand a chance, Black believes, if it weren't for another factor, a Republican-lead campaign to get several thousand GOP primary voters to "crossover" to vote in the Democratic primary. GOP activists, who have little hope of capturing the solidly Democratic seat, have gone so far as to launch an oust McKinney campaign called "New Leadership for DeKalb," replete with a fundraising web page, ( ), phone banks and mass mailings.

Heading into Tuesday's primary, Majette leads McKinney 41 to 39 percent in the latest public opinion poll, which is well within the poll's six-point margin of error.
Barr v. Linder

The mirror image of the McKinney-Majette race is on display in the state's new seventh district. Black calls the race between conservative Republican colleagues Barr and Linder, "mean, bitter [and] nasty. They hate each other."

Like the McKinney-Majette race, voters in the seventh district will decide Tuesday not between a difference in substantive positions on issues but rather, between the difference in personal styles.

"In one of the public debates, Barr was all over [Linder] like a prosecutor doing a cross examination of a dentist," Black recounted, referring to their respective former occupations. "On the other hand, Linder can pick up some sympathy here in that kind of exchange, because Barr doesn't give any deference. He just treats [Linder] like a Democrat."

The latest Mason-Dixon poll gives the four-term Barr a slight edge over the five-term Linder. Black predicts a Linder victory would turn on his base support in Gwinnett County, Ga. "If Linder can carry Gwinnett more than two to one, he probably will win," said Black. "But if the vote splits more in that county, I think Barr will win."

While Barr has touted his endorsement by the National Rifle Association, the Traditional Values Coalition and other prominent conservative groups, Linder has, through his radio ads described himself as a leader that voters can trust, "my type of conservative," a man who "gets things done for his district," and one who "seeks solutions, not sound bites."

When training proverbial guns on each other, Linder has gotten personal. "I will remind you, I am the one who has been married for 39 years to the same woman," Linder is reported to have remarked, by way of criticizing Barr's three marriages. Linder has also taken Barr to task over Barr's recent door-shooting incident in which an antique pistol he was handling accidentally discharged a bullet into a glass door. No one was harmed, but Linder took the opportunity to insinuate reckless behavior.

For his part, Barr has been accusing Linder of supporting a homosexual agenda because Linder signed an agreement not to discriminate in hiring. Barr, in a more conservative-than-thou stance, has also criticized Linder for courting Democratic voters.

Recently, however, Barr sent out a national fundraising letter that did not mention Linder at all. Instead, Barr said former President Clinton is engaged in an on-going effort to oust him from office. "Frankly, I'm doing everything I can to make sure Bill Clinton doesn't get the satisfaction of seeing Bob Barr go down in flames on Election Day," Barr wrote in the letter.
See Earlier Stories:

Some McKinney Contributors Support Terrorist Groups

Barr Fires A Shot Heard 'Round the Political World

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