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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Obama and the Georgia Senate Runoff

As the number of Democratic U.S. Senators inches up towards the Big Goal of 60, and as Georgia inches towards a December 2 runoff between Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss and Democratic challenger Jim Martin, the sixty-four-thousand dollar question is how much President-elect Barack Obama is willing to invest of his personal political capital in this race.
You’d have to guess that this is a question being batted around within Team Obama, in whatever time they have left in the midst of running a transition, vetting and choosing a Cabinet, and watching the economy contract.
The argument against direct intervention in GA by Obama is that the last thing he needs right now is to become embroiled in a highly partisan election that would be interpreted as the first personal defeat of his soon-to-be presidency. It’s also possible a high-profile Obama presence in the race would produce a large turnout for white conservatives eager to give him an early black eye.
The argument for it is that a Republican win will be interpreted as a rebuke to him no matter what he does, and that direct involvement is the only way to give Martin a fighting chance.
Polls show Chambliss with a narrow lead over Martin, amidst warnings that it’s almost impossible to measure likelihood to vote in this kind of stand-alone runoff.
More ominously for Martin, there are reports that African-American participation in early voting for the runoff is down sharply during its first few days. You can certainly argue that nothing short of a highly visible intervention by Obama could convince African-Americans, who may feel their mission was accomplished on November 4, to come back to the polls for the runoff.
Both candidates are runnning ads that essentially agree the runoff is about who would help or hinder the new Obama administration. Obama campaign volunteers are apparently all over the state, along with A-list Obama surrogates like Bill Clinton and Al Gore (John McCain’s campaigned for Chambliss). So it’s not clear Obama has that much to lose by getting personally involved, aside from national sentiment that he ought to be focused on preparing to govern.
Late today Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post reported that Obama’s cut a new 60-second radio ad for Martin. We obviously don’t know if this is the president-elect’s last toe in the water of this campaign, or a prelude to a plunge.

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