December runoffs are right around the corner

There’s no rest for the weary when it comes to American elections. Not even a week has passed since Barack Obama’s election and stories are already piling up about 2012 - and not all of it should be dismissed as the empty speculation of bored journalists. Prominent Republicans like Bobby Jindal will have traveled to Iowa before this year is over, and the current battle over Sarah Palin’s image will have important repercussions three years from now.

But a lot of elections will have to be taken care first, starting with two coming up in December: the runoff in Georgia’s Senate race, which will be held on December 2nd, and the general election in Louisiana’s fourth congressional district, which will be held on December 6th.

In Georgia, Senator Saxby Chambliss and Democratic nominee Jim Martin started campaigning as soon as it became clear that the race would go in overtime, as did national parties. Coming a few weeks after the presidential election, this runoff is a high-stakes battle with national implications, as Democrats want to expand their congressional majority while Republicans are hoping to get some immediate revenge.

In 1992, a Republican challenger defeated a Democratic incumbent in a Georgia runoff a month after Bill Clinton’s election, allowing the GOP to crow that Clinton’s honeymoon was already over. The situation is different this year, of course, since the incumbent is a Republican and a Democratic loss would not carry the same shock value. Yet, the potential for the Chambliss-Martin race to become a rematch of the Obama-McCain battle might lead the President Elect to keep his distance, not wanting to be waste his political capital before even being inaugurated.

This is not preventing Jim Martin from using Obama’s appeal in his first runoff ad, in which he asks Georgia to send him to the Senate to help the new President - even using footage from his victory speech:


Who would have thought a year ago that a local Democratic candidate in Georgia would tout his ties to his party’s presidential candidates rather than hide from them? This could be an even riskier strategy now that Obama has been elected, as the GOP’s main argument will surely be that voters should reelect Chambliss to guarantee some checks on the Democrats’ powers.

That said, Martin might have no other choice: Runoffs or special elections are generally low-turnout affairs. Whichever camp stays the most mobilized will come out on top, and this could cut both ways: Republicans are likely to be demoralized, and the turnout gap that we observed in the spring general elections would be fatal to Chambliss if it holds on December 2nd. On the other hand, African-American turnout is likely to decrease, costing Martin crucial votes. Touting Obama’s victory is a way for Martin to keep Democrats in general and black voters in particular energized.

Even if Barack Obama stays away from Georgia, this race is already drawing national attention - particularly on the GOP side. Not only will both John McCain and Sarah Palin stump for Chambliss, but outside groups are now rushing in. Here is, for instance, an attack produced by Freedom’s Watch:


In Louisiana, meanwhile, all eyes are on the fourth district, where Hurricane Gustav forced a delay of the primary until November 4th and a delay of the general election until December 6th. This is a conservative open seat that gave bush 59% of the vote in 2004 (the district breakdown for 2008 is not yet available), but Democratic nominee Paul Carmouche has long been celebrated by the DCCC as one of its top recruits. The longtime district attorney of one of the district’s 12 parishes, Carmouche will face physician John Fleming, a political novice who won a heated primary.

Here again, the most important factor in determining the result will be turnout, as it is impossible to predict which party’s base will remain the most energized over the next few weeks. Just as in Georgia, Freedom’s Watch will help the Republican nominee while the DCCC has already gone on air blasting Fleming for supporting social security privatization and a 23% sales tax:


Both races will be held on conservative territory and are tough seats for Democrats to pick-up. But for them to win either contest would give them bragging rights heading into the holiday season - just as in 2006, when Democrat Ciro Rodriguez unexpectedly prevailed in TX-23 in a December election.

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