It's Lewis vs. Lewis in Ga. Vote
It's Lewis vs. Lewis in Ga. Vote
PATRICIA J. MAYS
Oct. 18, 1998
ATLANTA (AP) _ Name recognition won't give six-term congressman John Lewis a leg up in this year's re-election bid.
His opponent is John H. Lewis Sr., a 76-year-old retiree with no political experience who is running a low-budget campaign against the well-known 58-year-old incumbent.
Come Nov. 3, the name similarity is certain to cause confusion among voters trying to distinguish between the civil rights hero and the retired horse carriage operator.
That's good news for the elder Lewis, a Republican whose primary political asset is his name. But he would have to confuse a lot of people to unseat the popular congressman, who is no relation.
In the last election, no one even dared to challenge Lewis, who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. In 1994, voters in the 5th District _ which includes the city of Atlanta _ gave him 69 percent of the vote.
But none of that deters Lewis Sr.
``I'm not afraid of him. I know I could beat him. He's been riding my coattail since he got in Georgia,'' claims Lewis Sr., a grandfather of 10. ``All I need is a little financial help.''
Lewis, the Democrat, helped Atlanta get the first federal building in the country named for King. He has been one of the most vocal critics of House Speaker Newt Gingrich and a staunch defender of President Clinton.
But the elder Lewis is no political novice. As a Democrat, he lost five previous elections _ four tries for the Atlanta City Council and one bid for the Legislature.
``I ran for state senator one time because I had $700 left and didn't know what to do with it,'' Lewis Sr. says.
Lewis Sr.'s cash-strapped campaign is relying on old-fashioned grass-roots methods. His only campaign headquarters are his house and the trunk of his car. There are no mass mailings _ just him handing out fliers, which he can be found doing any given Sunday after church.
Somewhere between sanctuary and parking lot, he strips off his suit jacket, dress shirt and tie to reveal a red and white T-shirt urging voters to elect him. Out of the car trunk come sneakers to replace his pointed cowboy boots.
``I'm running a po' man's campaign,'' says Lewis Sr.
On the other side of town, Lewis the congressman is doing a little campaigning of his own. He gives a fiery speech at a church, urging the primarily black congregation to get to the polls on Election Day.
After the service, he poses for pictures and signs copies of his new book. To many waiting in line, Lewis is a hero for his civil rights work. He was arrested 40 times and spent countless nights in jails around the South.
The incumbent expressed some concern about the name confusion.
``I don't want people to be confused,'' he said. ``I want them to vote for the real John Lewis _ the Democratic John Lewis and not the Republican John Lewis.''
The official ballot will identify Rep. John Lewis as the incumbent, and he'll be listed in the Democratic column. The other way to distinguish him from his opponent is that John H. Lewis Sr.'s full name will appear and he'll be in the Republican column.
It's not the first time similar names have caused ballot confusion.
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Robert Casey lost his first race for the Democratic nomination for governor in 1978, even though he had been state auditor general and was known statewide. On the same ballot was little known ice cream salesman Robert Casey, who won the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor.
But in this heavily Democratic district, the name on the ballot often means less than the party affiliation, said Charles Bullock, a political scientist at the University of Georgia.
``It probably wouldn't matter who was running on the Republican ticket,'' he said. ``The inclination of most voters in that district will be to go to the Democratic list and pick their candidates off of this ticket.''