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Sen. Franklin?

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It may be true that a recent interest group poll proves that Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin would be a formidable candidate in a U.S. Senate race.

But the poll raises plenty of questions, too.

The survey, which was conducted by Emily's List, a grassroots political network that supports female candidates in the nation's top races, found Franklin with a 10-point advantage over downstate U.S. Rep. Mac Collins, 45-35, and a seven-point lead over Marietta-based U.S. Rep. Johnny Isakson, 45-38.

The numbers are a clear indication of why some within the party now look to Franklin as their best hope to win the seat U.S. Sen. Zell Miller is vacating in 2005. And, frankly, since Secretary of State Cathy Cox took herself out of the running, the field of prospective Democratic candidates looks something like the post-battle fields at Gettysburg.

But the 35 percent and 38 percent that Collins and Isakson rated are both better starting points than the one U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss enjoyed when he started his run against Max Cleland. If Franklin decides to run, her success likely depends on whether Isakson can make it out of the Republican primary. Among centrist Democrats Creative Loafing has spoken with recently, Isakson inspires remarkable ambivalence. It goes something like: Well, if Johnny wins, it wouldn't be so bad. And that's not good for any Democrat.

Collins figures to be much more vulnerable, as does U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, R-1st District, another rumored candidate.

A few other poll highlights: Fifty-six percent of black voters outside Atlanta chose Franklin to Collins' 16 percent. Isakson rated similarly at 67-8. Statewide, white women favor Isakson over Franklin 44-35. But Franklin does well with younger whites, besting Collins by two points and coming in just four points behind Isakson.

Interestingly, another African-American, Colin Powell, scored the highest favorable rating in the poll: 84 percent, even as his boss, President George Bush took the highest unfavorable score at 33 percent. And Franklin actually scores 3 percent higher than Cox in the favorability rankings, 52-49.

It's easy to understand why. Franklin's leadership has turned around Atlanta's image. But Democrats should remember that Franklin has only won one race, and she faced a steady but lackluster opponent with barely adequate funding and a moribund campaign.

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