Story last updated at 11/25/2008 - 4:34 pm
ATLANTA - For president-elect Barack Obama, the time has arrived to make his first big decision. And no, it's not if Hillary will be in the cabinet.
Obama used every possible political trick in the book to both secure his nomination and then trounce John McCain in the general election. Who can blame him? Politics is a contact sport.
And for the last few weeks it appeared that Democrats were far enough away from their goal of a 60-member, filibuster-proof U.S. Senate that there would be nothing gained by the president-elect getting his hands dirty and actively campaigning in the only U.S. Senate runoff in the nation - that of incumbent Republican Saxby Chambliss vs. Democratic challenger Jim Martin in Georgia. But now circumstances have altered the political landscape, and Obama must make a choice.
Alaska's longtime senator-turned-recently-convicted-lawmaker, Ted Stevens, has been defeated by his Democratic rival. Meanwhile in Minnesota, comedian-turned-Senate candidate Al Franken has magically whittled a 700-plus lead by incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman down to a precarious few hundred vote lead with a contentious recount still to come.
That means that former Georgia Democratic state Rep. Jim Martin could potentially supply the Democrats the magic 60th seat in the Senate.
I served with Jim in the Georgia Legislature in my prior life as a partisan elected official. We were from separate parties but got along fine. He is a good man and has a sharp mind. He's also fairly liberal and is not a particularly magnetic candidate. He won't win without direct help from Barack Obama.
Meanwhile, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, who I have also known for years, is a super nice guy who has a laid-back style. Unfortunately, it was too laid back in his general election battle. Just as our InsiderAdvantage/Poll Position survey suggested would be the case, he was unable to crack the required 50 percent plus one vote rule required to win outright in Georgia.
Here are some key components of this race that most in the media don't know.
First, the good news for the Republicans. Chambliss has his act together for the runoff. The various Republican entities allowed to contribute to electing him have raised nearly $4 million devoted to absentee and early voter efforts - something that was totally ignored by the Chambliss campaign in the Nov. 4 contest. Over 1.1 million voters, all of whom vote Republican in Georgia, have been mailed absentee ballot info or reminders that they vote early. And in areas where early voting is occurring, the demographic makeup of the voters seems to favor Chambliss.
Second, the bad news for Republicans. Georgia is not as big of a Red state as in the past. Because of a foul-up in reporting the votes, most of the nation saw numbers that suggested John McCain had carried Georgia by over 60 percent. Not true. When the large metro-Atlanta counties reported, McCain dropped to barely 52 percent statewide, and Obama proved a strong 47 percent. In a generic no-name statewide Public Service Commission contest, the Democrat actually led the Republican.
The Obama organization has somehow claimed that they should stay out of the Georgia race for myriad reasons, including that the president-elect might "lose political capital" if Martin goes down following an Obama visit. They also point to a similar runoff situation in Georgia in 1992. That's when president-elect Bill Clinton came to the state on behalf of incumbent Sen. Wyche Fowler, only to then witness Fowler losing to the late Sen. Paul Coverdell in the runoff.
But what most don't realize is that the Clinton transition, unlike Obama's, was a disorganized mess. By the time Clinton came to Georgia, his approval ratings had dropped substantially (only to rise again after he became president).
Obama has no baggage. In fact, an InsiderAdvantage survey shows that Obama's approval rating has soared in the Peach State and is comfortably in the sixties-percentile level.
Jim Martin's only real hope is that Obama comes to Georgia and attends one of his massive rallies and sends every person there off to the polls to vote. That might mean a risky Election Day or pre-election visit by Obama.
The question is just how badly does the new president want a Democratic Senate that can pass whatever it wants, without the threat of Republican filibusters to stop vote.
No risk, no reward. My bet is that he doesn't take the risk and Chambliss keeps his seat.