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December 02, 2008

Chambliss decisively defeats Martin

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) has resoundingly defeated Democrat Jim Martin in the Georgia Senate runoff, winning a second term and ending Democratic hopes of gaining a 60-seat filibuster-resistant majority in the Senate.

With 93 percent of precincts reporting, Chambliss leads Martin 58 to 42 percent and the AP has called the race for Chambliss.

The runoff was necessitated after Chambliss came up about 8,000 votes short of the 50 percent necessary to win the seat outright on Election Night.

Turnout was moderate throughout Georgia for the runoff – estimated around 30 to 35 percent – a development that played to Chambliss’ advantage.

In a battle of turnout, Republicans won decisively. Scores of Barack Obama’s leading field organizers were dispatched to Georgia for the runoff, but they were unable to rally enough voters to the polls without Obama’s name on the ballot – particularly for a little-known Democratic politician.

Martin aligned himself closely with Obama, and was hoping that the president-elect would campaign for him in Georgia. But in the midst of a closely watched transition, Obama decided not to expend any political capital on a tough race and only taped a one-minute radio ad and a robo-call on Martin’s behalf.

Instead, Martin relied on the help of several famous politicians and celebrities – from Bill Clinton to the rapper Ludacris – but none were able to drive voter turnout like an Obama visit would have.

African-Americans account for much of the Democratic base in Georgia, and they showed up in record numbers during the November election. Early voting numbers and a look at the turnout patterns suggest that black voters did not turn up in nearly the same numbers they did last month.

Meanwhile, Chambliss framed the race as a firewall to prevent unchecked Democratic power, a message that resonated among his core supporters. And in a Republican-leaning state Chambliss was able to get enough Republicans to return to the polls, aided by a last-minute campaign visit from Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

The Chambliss campaign’s efforts were aided by the Republican National Committee, which anticipated the likelihood of a runoff and prepared an extensive get-out-the-vote plan one week before the November election. Republican efforts for the runoff focused on maximizing turnout in the heavily GOP suburbs of Atlanta, particularly Cobb and Gwinnett Counties.

It worked: Chambliss won 64 percent of the vote in Cobb County, compared to his 53 percent performance there in November. In Gwinnett County, Chambliss is winning 62 percent of the vote, compared to 53 percent last month.

Chambliss’ victory leaves Democrats with 58 Senate seats, with just the Minnesota Senate race between Republican Sen. Norm Coleman and Al Franken left undecided.