Prominent Black Democrat Won’t Endorse Jim Martin in Georgia Senate Race

This is from the, concerning the Georgia Senate race between incumbent Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss and Democratic challenger Jim Martin.

AP, November 19, 2008: U.S. Senate candidate Jim Martin won’t be getting an endorsement from his former Democratic rival anytime soon.

DeKalb County Chief Executive Officer Vernon Jones, who lost to Mr. Martin in a primary runoff in August, said he has no plans to back him, citing the former state lawmaker’s lack of support for Democratic President-elect Barack Obama during the primary season.

Mr. Martin voted for Democrat John Edwards in Georgia’s Feb. 5 presidential primary even though the North Carolina senator already had dropped out of the race.

Mr. Jones, who is black, hammered Mr. Martin repeatedly for that vote during their bitter campaign.

“Jim Martin did not want Barack Obama to be president,” Mr. Jones said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “He did not want to vote for an African-American or a woman.”

Mr. Jones said it’s hypocritical for Mr. Martin to now be “begging Barack Obama to come down here and help him” in his Dec. 2 runoff.

Mr. Martin is locked in a runoff with Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss after neither garnered 50 percent of the vote in the general election. He has asked Mr. Obama to campaign for him but has received no word on whether he will.

That kind of news can’t be helpful to Martin, who needs the black vote to turnout if he’s going to win the runoff. While Chambliss got just under 50% of the general election vote, Martin got around 47% (the same percentage that Barack Obama got in Georgia).

I’m not very familiar with Georgia politics, but there seems to be an undercurrent of stress and divisiveness between black Democrats and white conservative Democrats in this deep South state.

The Martin/Jones situation recalls the Georgia primary race between congressman John Barrow, a white moderate-conservative Blue Dog Democrat, and challenger vote Regina Thomas, a black Democrat in the Georgia State Senate.

A major point made by Thomas during the primary campaign was that Barrow was a conservative who voted too often with Republicans, and that she was the “real Democrat” running in the election.

But Thomas’ attacks were blunted when Barrow received Barack Obama’s endorsement during the campaign. Barrow had endorsed Obama’s candidacy way back in February, when Obama was still trying to rally support from so-called superdelegates such as Barrow. Barrow was one of 14 national co-chairs for Obama’s 50-state voter registration drive.

Barrow, who represents Savannah and part of Augusta, went on to win the primary and the general election.

If Democrats are to win in Southern states which, unlike Virginia and North Carolina, do not have significant in-migration from outside the South, they’ll need to learn how to deal with divisions between blacks and whites.

One person who has done this successfully is Sanford Bishop, an African American congressman who represent southwest Georgia. As noted in his Wikipedia entry:

Arguably the most conservative African-American Democrat in Congress, Bishop is a member of the Blue Dog Democrats, a group of moderate to conservative Democrats in Congress. Serving a primarily agricultural district, Bishop has fought to preserve the federal price supports for peanuts, southwest Georgia’s most important crop. In 2005, he caused considerable controversy within his own party by cosponsoring a bill by U.S. Representative Ernest Istook (R-Oklahoma) to introduce a constitutional amendment to protect religious expression on public property.

You don’t hear too much from Bishop, and it appears he prefers being quiet. In the recent election, he got 70% of the vote in his mostly rural district that is 47% white, 47% black, and 3% Hispanic.

It would be interesting to see if Bishop, who has a safe seat, would ever consider a run for the Senate-and if he’d get the support of moderate and progressive black Democrats in Georgia.

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