That’s the question Larry Sabato asks in the latest edition of his Crystal Ball (courtesy of David Ballard). He writes:
The race to replace kicks off with an unusual free-for-all open primary on June 19th in which six Republicans and three Democrats will compete on the same ballot. A runoff will be held four weeks later on July 17th in the likely event that none of the candidates garners 50 percent or more of the vote.For most of the race, Norwood’s heir apparent has been State Senator Jim Whitehead, who hails from Norwood’s area north of Augusta and has kept most potential rivals at bay and out of the running. Recently, though, he has been suffering from a bad case of foot-in-mouth syndrome. In a column that appeared in The Elberton Star, Whitehead admitted suggesting that someone “probably ought to bomb” the University of Georgia–sparing the football team, of course. Then, in a March 26 letter to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Whitehead claimed that liberals have been registering “known al-Qaida terrorists” to vote. Will Whitehead keep quiet long enough to win? We shall see.
Other Republican contenders include conservative activist Bill Greene and physician Paul Broun. Greene has enlisted the help of former Presidential candidate Alan Keyes to stress Greene’s conservative bona fides and to help raise money. Broun is hoping the fourth time is the charm, as he was unsuccessful in attempts to reach Capitol Hill in 1990, 1992, and 1996.
Democrats are hoping to take advantage of the battle royal on the Republican side and have mostly united behind former Yahoo! Executive Jim Marlow. If divisions among Republicans can keep Whitehead from reaching the 50 percent he needs to escape a runoff, and enough Democrats from Athens make it out to the polls, then Marlow could well become number two vote getter and advance to the runoff. From there, Democrats’ victory recipe calls for Marlow’s free spending and Whitehead’s self-destruction.
The eventual winner of this race will very likely be a Republican, but Democrats are quick to point out that mid-cycle redistricting made this district much less of a GOP slam dunk than it was pre-2007. The addition of liberal Athens to the district, designed to enhance Republican prospects in adjoining districts, brought down Bush’s 2004 percentage from 72 percent to 62 percent in the district’s new configuration. Sometimes politics is all about unintended consequences.