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U.S. Senate: No more partisan games

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If Jim Martin wins his underdog race against U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, he should send a big box of chocolates to Barack Obama and Wall Street.

According to the Georgia Secretary of State's Office, African-Americans are voting early in high numbers, most likely because Obama's name is on the ticket. And lots of black voters bode well for other Democratic candidates – especially for the next name on the ballot, which is Martin's.

Wall Street should get Obama's box of chocolates because ago, Chambliss' yea vote just a couple of weeks ago on Wall Street's $750 billion bailout package severely pissed off conservatives. His reasons may have been commendable, but good luck changing the mind of irate free-marketers.

Those two factors create an ideal environment for Martin, an Atlanta Democrat who entered the race late in the game and has toiled to raise funds against the well-financed Republican incumbent.

Martin is a level-headed, fiscal conservative. In his low-key but dogged fashion, he worked hard for average folks' interests during 18 years in the state House. The Atlanta native and Vietnam veteran held onto his integrity, but also won influence in the Legislature by getting along with both Republicans and good ol' boy Democrats like the late Speaker Tom Murphy. He then served under both Democrat Roy Barnes and Republican Sonny Perdue as Georgia's commissioner of human resources. Despite numerous longtime problems at that troubled agency, he bolstered his reputation there as principled but not partisan.

Chambliss, on the other hand, has been a bosom buddy for special interests and a rubber stamp for President Bush in six years in the Senate. His hectoring last summer of an Imperial Sugar whistleblower who testified about a Savannah refinery explosion that killed 14 workers was typical in a career short on common sense and decency. It can only be explained by the sugar industry's $21,500 in contributions to his campaign war chest and by his son's convenient job as a lobbyist for the very interests Chambliss oversees as a ranking member of the Agriculture Committee.

So long as Republicans were popular, Chambliss relished over-the-top partisanship. starting in 2002 with an ad pairing war hero Max Cleland with Osama bin Laden, and continuing into the early part of this year when he answered questions about the nation's problems simply by blaming Democrats.

In the last two years, Chambliss has taken a few gutsy stands that upset his Republican base. He first came out in favor of Bush's compromise immigration plan, before being cowed by a reaction from anti-immigration groups. A bipartisan energy bill he helped put together this year was met with rightwing jeers from Peach Pundit to the Wall Street Journal.

Libertarian candidate Allen Buckley is also a thorn in Chambliss' side. He's been running colorful ads on talk radio that deride the senator's spending record as worse than "a drunken sailor." Poor Saxby can't seem to please anybody anymore.

Polls that placed Martin far behind the incumbent as late as last month have now narrowed to as close as dead even. Should voters come out in big numbers for Obama, Chambliss could become an unexpected Republican casualty.

If so, he'll have himself to blame. In a Congress gridlocked by nasty partisanship, he's certainly been a poster boy for the problem.

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