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GA-Senate Runoff: Winners and Losers

Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss and Senate Republicans were the big winners in yesterday's runoff. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Senate Democrats' dreams of a 60-seat filibuster proof majority were dashed down in Georgia yesterday as Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) won a convincing runoff victory over former state Rep. Jim Martin (D).

While Chambliss -- and Senate Republicans -- were the obvious winners, we here at The Fix aim to go beyond the headlines and bring you, gentle reader, the inside dope on the runoff election that was.

Our winners and losers from yesterday's vote are below. Agree or disagree with our picks? Have some of your own? The comments section awaits.


John Cornyn: The incoming chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee got a bit of good news as he looks at (another) tough electoral landscape in 2010. Had Chambliss lost Tuesday night, the "sky is falling" sentiment within the party would have run wild, making it tough for Cornyn to recruit top tier candidates and drive fundraising. Now the Texas senator has at least one good talking point to donors and prospects. His next task? Make sure retiring Sen. Mel Martinez (Fla.) is the exception not the rule.

Barack Obama: There were some within the Democratic strategist set who argued that a visit to Georgia by the president-elect could put Martin over the top. The Obama inner circle resisted -- cutting a radio ad for Martin using its massive email list to help raise money for the Democrat but never broaching the possibility of a personal visit. Had Chambliss won by a point or two that decision would have been second-guessed; Chambliss' 14-point margin justified Obama's decision to stay out.

Mike Duncan: The Republican National Committee chairman, who is widely expected to seek a second term at the winter meeting early next year used the power of the committee to aid Chambliss and build up his own credentials. The RNC used more than 600,000 targeted banner ads to make sure GOP voters knew about the Dec. 2 runoff and to urge them to vote early. As a result, the percentage of Republicans voting early went from 35 percent in the general election to 52 percent in the runoff. Duncan was also quick on the trigger following Chambliss' win with a statement that asserted Georgia showed "that the Republican Party and our core conservative principles are alive and well."

Sarah Palin: While Chambliss' winning margin suggests he would have won whether or not Palin stumped for him on Monday, the Alaska governor's high profile swing through the state is sure to be cited by her backers as evidence of her political potency as talk of 2012 heats up.

The Runoff System: Repealed by Democrats during Gov. Roy Barnes's (D) tenure and re-instated by Republicans in the state legislature, the runoff rule is probably here to stay following Chambliss' convincing win last night.


Al Franken: With 60 seats for Democrats no longer a possibility, entertainer Al Franken's ongoing recount fight with Sen. Norm Coleman loses that much urgency in the eyes of national party strategists. Both sides acknowledge that Coleman is ahead at the moment although they differ widely on how many votes separate the two men. If Coleman stays ahead, the desire (and interest) in Franken's candidacy may well wane as both parties prepare for the coming Obama Administration and the 2010 elections.

Roy Barnes: There was some talk about supporters of the former governor that a win by Martin (or even a close loss) in the runoff would pave the way for a renaissance among Georgia Democrats that would culminate with Barnes running for the open governor's seat in 2010. Chambliss' strong victory reaffirms the fundamental Republican tilt of the state and forecloses, for the moment, any talk of a Democratic resurgence in 2010.

Jim Marshall: The Macon-area congressman was courted (and considered) a run against Chambliss but ultimately decided against it. Given how close Martin, an unknown former state legislator, came to knocking off Chambliss, it's clear that the GOP incumbent was ripe for the picking this year. Marshall's decision to take a pass on the race means that he will face a serious challenge every two years in his Republican-leaning 8th district and may not ever see the Senate.

By Chris Cillizza  |  December 3, 2008; 10:50 AM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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I will never forget this chickenhawk Chambliss shameful campaign ads against Max Cleland and valient war vet who lost most of his limbs in battle! Whether you're a Republican or a Democrat, Max Cleland did not deserve the dishonorable terrorist crap that Chambliss threw at him in 2002. Are those folks in Georgia that rabid conservative or are they just plain stupid?....or both?

Posted by: logcabin1836 | December 4, 2008 2:38 PM | Report abuse

Let me tell you why Chambliss REALLY won the race. The "conservatives" in Georgia have been in a frantic seething and raging panic ever since Obama won.

I live in the Atlanta area and I have never heard so many people so confidently spouting off racial slurs, unfounded accusations of communism and even terrorist intentions. Almost every single person at my job is guilty of such. One instructor even spent a good portion of a class talking about the potential threat of "total dominance" in the Congress. I hear it all over the college I attend and this hateful racist banter has largely replaced talking about the weather at check out counters and men's rooms.

The religious overtones of Armegeddon and musings that Obama seems to fit the description of the Anti-Christ are everywhere as well. I've been told it has been brought up by pastors right on the pulpit. Its as if I went to sleep and woke up at some sort of blood-thirsty neo-fascist Klan rally.

THAT folks is why Chambliss won by such a huge margin. These people think that they have just done their part to try and curb the efforts of Evil Incarnate in the world.

It would be laughable and pathetic if it weren't such a reckless danger to this great country. Unfortunately, the vapid right wing attitude is not this time limited to the drunken rednecks and the extremists. It is soccer moms and white collar professionals squawking these fear driven racial and/or hateful pronouncements cloaked in patriotism and religious righteousness.

I am disappointed and sickened by my fellow Americans.

Posted by: ultramanjones | December 3, 2008 11:17 PM | Report abuse

So, Georgians apparently prefer a draft-dodging, disingenous, mindless Bush apologist.
Have fun, GA. Thank God that POS Chambliss isn't my senator.

Posted by: vegasgirl1 | December 3, 2008 7:26 PM | Report abuse

Chambliss is a closet Klansman....and a gay one at that.

Posted by: sasquatchbigfoot | December 3, 2008 4:59 PM | Report abuse

"Gentle reader"? "Inside dope"? "Runoff that was"? All these elements in the same sentence? What is it about Cillizza's writing style, if you can call it that, that annoys me so much? Maybe that he writes like a middle schooler attempting to come across as sophisticated by mimicking what he perceives as clever, adult language? So obnoxious. "We here at the The Fix..." (and I've about had it with the self references using that nickname/column name): Is that the editorial we? The royal we? "The Fix thinks the Fix is oh so clever and cheeky." "Elmo want cookie."

Posted by: nathang1 | December 3, 2008 4:27 PM | Report abuse

I see all these comments about Obama's agenda but I have never heard, during the campaign or since the election, one word of agenda except for "change" and if you call his appointments an indication of change than you are still drinking the Kool-aid.

Posted by: Ethicist | December 3, 2008 1:56 PM | Report abuse

Not sure anyone really won or lost here except for Chambliss and Martin. It was always goign to be tough for Martin to topple Chambliss in a run-off and the Republicans had more motivation this time.

Not sure that Cornyn's a winner given the one extra vote... The Republicans still have had a disastrous 2 election cycles...

Posted by: RickJ | December 3, 2008 1:53 PM | Report abuse

There are not that many big winners or losers in the Georgia Senate race, excepting Sen. Chambliss on one side and Jim Martin on the other, plus President-elect Obama and his team for correctly perceiving that the Georgia runoff was one their man was unlikely to win no matter what they did on his behalf.

The Georgia Republican Party is a very strong organization. It is well-funded, and allied to evangelical groups that have for years done a first-rate job of getting their members and sympathizers to the polls every time they have needed to. Chambliss obviously also benefitted from the fact that the former Georgia GOP Congressman who ran on the Liberarian line in November wasn't on the ballot, and of course from the fact that Obama wasn't either.

Sarah Palin was an ornament in this runoff. She didn't move any votes to Chambliss that he wouldn't have gotten anyway. King Roy Barnes is a man of ability who the Obama administration would be wise to find a place for, but barring a Republican collapse neither he nor any other Democrat had much of a future in statewide Georgia politics -- he didn't really lose that much yesterday. And as for Al Franken, he's a winner if he wins the Minnesota recount and a loser if he doesn't, period. The political media's obsession with 60 Democrats in the Senate is a product of the assumption that all Republicans will always vote together. Without a Republican in the White House or Dick Cheney around to enforce party discipline that assumption is almost certainly wrong.

Posted by: jbritt3 | December 3, 2008 1:48 PM | Report abuse

Another bigoted ideological dinosaur returns to the U.S. Senate. Add the American people to the list of Losers.

Posted by: maxfli68 | December 3, 2008 1:40 PM | Report abuse

Another reason why Obama wins in this whole thing is now he can blame the "republican obstructionists" for any blocking of more liberal policy moves. He can then use that to placate the left while governing from the center left like he said he was going to do.

Posted by: AndyR3 | December 3, 2008 1:12 PM | Report abuse

gbooksdc writes
"And all that begs the question, what happens to the Dems without a black man heading the ticket that doesn't ensure a record level of black/Dem voter turnout?"

All that from one senate runoff? Methinks you've drawn some conclusions prematurely.

Posted by: bsimon1 | December 3, 2008 12:49 PM | Report abuse

By the way, there's often more cogent analysis in the comments than from CC. Kudos to novamatt and and LABC.

Posted by: gbooksdc | December 3, 2008 12:47 PM | Report abuse

Obama's a loser, not a winner. It looks like much of the black vote, which made the first vote close, stayed home with Obama off the ballot. If he works hard for Martin, maybe it's another story.

And all that begs the question, what happens to the Dems without a black man heading the ticket that doesn't ensure a record level of black/Dem voter turnout? Without that record black vote (and I'm focusing on the black vote because I'll give Dems the youth vote going forward), VA and FL don't go Dem. While Republicans certainly have serious problems in the Northeast, and in the West, the GOP's demise nationally may well have been overstated. Nov. 5 may have been an Obama victory much more than a Democratic victory. And after 2016, I'm not seeing an Obama on the horizon for the Dems. Probably you'll someone like a Sebelius or a Napolitano heading the ticket.

Posted by: gbooksdc | December 3, 2008 12:44 PM | Report abuse

I agree with the previous bloggers--Al Franken comes out a winner. His potential vote would be more crucial in potentially cobbling together 60 votes with any of the vanishing band of Republican moderates (Snowe, Collins, Specter) and the Democratic party and the Democrats in the Senate will be very likely to fight hard for him for the symbolic value of not having the last two undecided Senate seats go red.

Posted by: ds73 | December 3, 2008 12:43 PM | Report abuse

"For many of us in Georgia, the Republican campaign tactics ensured ardent opposition and I could not be more chagrined at the Chambliss victory. Did Republicans then stimulate stronger opposition?"

Perhaps. makes a note that Chambliss' ads were much gentler after November 4th. Palin was also a bit toned down in terms of the divisive rhetoric. That might have been a factor.

Posted by: DDAWD | December 3, 2008 12:33 PM | Report abuse

Obama's agenda could be dead on arrival now that the GOP has the number of seats it needs.

Posted by: anthem20042001
Losers = those that read too much into the re-election of a Foghorn Leghorn sound alike by a bunch of hayseeds in a red Southern state.

And if you think this senator stands between President Obama and the success of his agenda, you have been either guzzling too much Southern Comfort or a political pundit looking for something to over-analyze.

Posted by: LABC | December 3, 2008 12:30 PM | Report abuse

The Republicans poured resources into Georgia in support of Chambliss. They spent capital with the top-level endorsement visits. The ads were frequent and inaccurate, dishonest,fear-inducing. For many of us in Georgia, the Republican campaign tactics ensured ardent opposition and I could not be more chagrined at the Chambliss victory. Did Republicans then stimulate stronger opposition?

Posted by: belle7 | December 3, 2008 11:55 AM | Report abuse

"Obama's agenda could be dead on arrival now that the GOP has the number of seats it needs."

Hardly. There are plenty of RINOs that will flip. If Coleman wins, he will surely be one of them...

Posted by: bsimon1 | December 3, 2008 11:48 AM | Report abuse

What no Bobby Jindal and Matt Drudge for old time stupid sake?

Posted by: havok26 | December 3, 2008 11:47 AM | Report abuse

Obama's agenda could be dead on arrival now that the GOP has the number of seats it needs.

Posted by: anthem20042001 | December 3, 2008 11:37 AM | Report abuse

Actually, Franken becomes more important now. Without him, the Democrats should be able to muster 60 votes on every potential cloture vote except one: the Employee Free Choice Act. On the cloture motion for that one in June 2007, all of the Democrats voted in favor of cloture and all but one of the Republicans (Specter) voted against.

There's no guarantee that the Ds would be able to maintain unanimity in their caucus, or that Specter will again join them, given what will be unprecedented lobbying efforts against the bill by business interests, but I think it's likely. Specter (up for reelection in '10) has always been a friend to labor, and increased union density would be beneficial to all Ds, even the potentially flippable red-state Ds like Ben Nelson and Mark Pryor, and voting against it would likely guarantee a well-funded primary opponent next time around.

So 58 Ds + Specter = 59 votes for cloture. Those 59 + Franken = a bright, sunshiny new day for the House of Labor and the working class.

Posted by: novamatt | December 3, 2008 11:26 AM | Report abuse

Not sure how Obama is a winner. At the very least, he isn't a loser. You can't give him more than that.

Also, this election may cast some doubt on the stability of the Democratic dominance. If the black turnout vanishes when Obama is not providing some coattails, what could that mean? Especially when we are more removed from the Bush years? North Carolina almost certainly goes red if not for black turnout.

The big loser is the myth that the Dems need 60 members to get anything done.

Posted by: DDAWD | December 3, 2008 11:22 AM | Report abuse

Loser = Robocalls.

Obama and Clinton made robos into GA for Martin. It is clear that these calls, as the data shows, simply do not work.

Green and Gerber (Yale) have studied robos for 10 years and they say, "robo calls have a perfect record for never having worked."

Here is an article with their quote -->

Shaun Dakin

Posted by: shimane1 | December 3, 2008 11:12 AM | Report abuse

"X" marks the spot!

Posted by: steeleswitters | December 3, 2008 11:09 AM | Report abuse

The fix writes:
"winner: runoff system
loser: al franken"

Indeed; in fact the franken-coleman race also makes the runoff system a winner. If MN had a runoff system, we wouldn't be dealing with the ridiculous recount, we'd just recognize that neither al nor norm won a majority & hold another election, without barkley and the others.

Posted by: bsimon1 | December 3, 2008 10:58 AM | Report abuse

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