Whitehead clear favorite for Norwood's seat

Some Georgia voters may get their 15 minutes of fame this summer. The first federal election since last year's Republican-to-Democrat power shift occurs June 19 as voters in the 10th District in Northeast Georgia choose a successor to the late Republican Rep. Charlie Norwood. The eyes of the nation may focus on Georgia, briefly.

At first glance (and second one, too), the election may prove to be little more than a mild scuffle among nine not-well-known candidates and an old-time Georgia Bulldog football player. The footballer and very conservative Republican, state Sen. Jim Whitehead of Evans, seems a cinch to lead the pack in the first balloting. Whether Whitehead can win a required majority to avoid a runoff is uncertain.

The election, however, may give us a whiff of how large samplings of Georgians feel about their Congress and issues addressing the nation - namely, the Iraq War and immigration. It could be a preview of the 2008 Georgia election for president and a new House and Senate.

Let's look at the three most visible candidates:

• Whitehead, the 65-year-old geezer of the group, is the choice of most of the GOP brass and was a close pal of Norwood. Using the talents of an experienced and energetic staff, Whitehead figures to be miles ahead in raising funds when figures are released later this week. He also may be close to the 50 percent-plus-one vote that would let him take the rest of the summer off. Whitehead insists the Iraq War is not the major issue in his district. He says that his polls show Georgia voters are most concerned with the continuing stream of illegal immigrants into his district and, by golly, he's going stop to it. Whitehead's pro-development record in the Senate may come under close scrutiny. He once supported giving eminent domain authority to private developers.

• Bill Greene of Braselton is potential trouble for Whitehead. With ties to anti-immigration groups, including the Minutemen, Greene runs an online fundraising organization and moves in ultraconservative national political circles. The Washington Times calls Greene "a conservative political guru." If Greene can pick up traction and a bit more campaign cash, he might spoil Whitehead's hope for victory without a runoff.

• James Marlow of Lincolnton, the leading Democrat in this nonpartisan battle, has made Iraq the focus of his campaign by stating the obvious - the American military has done all it can do, and it's time for the Iraqis to settle their differences and for our guys to exit the increasingly bloody Iraq civil war. A former technology executive, Marlow says he will use his professional experience to address the need for more jobs in the district and access to our crazy-quilt health-care system.

Coming into the stretch, Whitehead leads comfortably, but Greene could close - and Marlow could test Democrats vital signs to determine whether the donkey still brays.

Then there is the leftover six-pack of candidates, each hoping lightning will strike and propel him or her into a runoff election.

Republican Paul Broun of Athens, another staunch conservative, is likely to benefit from voters confusing him with his late father, a beloved Democratic state senator from Athens. Broun, a physician, has run for office several times before but has never managed to put together a victorious campaign. It was revealed recently that Broun was raising campaign funds before Norwood died in anticipation of a post-Norwood campaign.

Long shots Mark Myers, Nate Pulliam of Conyers and Erik Underwood round out the Republican field. Myers was a candidate for the seat in the late 1980s and appears to base his entire campaign on touting a letter he received from then-President Reagan endorsing him. Pulliam, an Iraq veteran, is bright and informed, but lacks organization. Underwood, a young black candidate from Atlanta, is a long shot by every measure.

Back on the Democratic side, the other two candidates are Denise Freeman and Evita Paschall, both black women. Freeman, a minister, has run for office several times before, once winning a seat on the Lincoln County Board of Education. Paschall, a lawyer in Augusta, has little money or organization.

In the end, Whitehead appears headed to Washington to pick up where Charlie Norwood left off - a usually dependable vote for the conservative agenda, but not necessarily for all items on the White House list. If Whitehead performs in Washington as he did in Atlanta, he won't make many waves - or cause embarrassment. He'll fit right in with his Republican minority peers.

Syndicated columnist Bill Shipp writes on Georgia politics. E-mail him at shipp1@bellsouth.net.

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