What Chambliss's Win Means -- Or Doesn't

Washington Matters

What Chambliss's Win Means -- Or Doesn't

Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss won big in the Georgia Senate runoff yesterday, capturing 57% of the vote to Jim Martin's 43%. That was quite different from the Nov. 4 election, when Chambliss led 49.8% to 46.8% with 3% going to a third-party candidate. Turnout fell from 3.9 million in November to 2.1 million yesterday, but that's still pretty high for a runoff, especially when compared to that of a competitive and attention-grabbing presidential race. The Republican and Democratic national parties spent a lot in the runoff, and some big guns campaigned, including Bill and Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee. President-elect Obama wisely stayed away.

So what are we to make of the results?

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There are several ways to look at it. You be the judge of what makes the most sense.

1) Georgia is still very much a Red state. Obama came closer than other Democrats would have, thanks largely to higher than normal turnout among African-Americans, many of whom skipped the runoff. But Obama still lost the state by five percentage points. So in a sense, this was just a conservative Republican state doing its more normal thing. 


2) Obama has won plaudits from many for the way he's handled the transition, but he obviously hasn't won over more Georgians. Though he didn't campaign here, he did cut radio ads, which obviously didn't help much. That suggests that any national trend toward Democrats has its limits. Republicans can take hope from that.

3) The Chambliss win means Democrats won't get the 60 votes they need to win a filibuster-proof margin in the Senate. Both sides made an issue of that and, as Wilson Smith, a radio talk show host in Georgia notes, it seems that Georgians still believe in checks and balances and don't want Democrats to have too much power.

4) On the other hand, not having 60 votes has its advantages for Democrats. With that kind of control, they'd have no excuses for failing to govern effectively.

5) The fact that Martin did so much better when Obama was on the ballot ought to make many Democrats realize how large Obama's coattails were in many parts of the country. That will make them more beholden to the new president, making it harder to deny him their votes when he asks for them.