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Georgia Primaries Could Add Blacks, Republicans In Congress

July 20, 1992

ATLANTA (AP) _ A crowded cast of congressional candidates - 76 running for 11 seats - means Georgia may find itself with more black U.S. representatives and without House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich.

State primaries Tuesday will be the first elections using new congressional district lines drawn at the Justice Department’s insistence to improve the chances of black candidates.

In Washington, the department announced Monday that 81 federal observers will monitor the election for potential racial discrimination. John R. Dunne, assistant attorney general for civil rights, said the decision to send observers stemmed from an investigation that included discussions with election officials and community leaders.

Observers will monitor activities in polling places during voting hours and the counting of ballots after the polls close.

Forty-one Democrats and 35 Republicans are running for Congress. Only one, 7th District Rep. Buddy Darden, a Democrat from Marietta, is unopposed in the primary.

Gingrich, R-Marietta, won his seventh term two years ago by fewer than 1,000 votes. He could be vulnerable this time to the challenge from former state lawmaker Herman Clark, a political scientist said.

Clark won some support by ridiculing Gingrich for voting to raise congressional pay, for using a taxpayer furnished limousine, and for 22 overdrafts at the House bank, including one to the Internal Revenue Service.

″I suspect that overdraft issue has hurt (Gingrich) a lot,″ said Merle Black of Emory University.

Fourteen black candidates are running in three majority-black congressional districts.

Georgia’s only black congressman, Democrat John Lewis, a civil rights hero from Atlanta, is the favorite in the 5th District. Gene Walker, a black state senator, is the front-runner in the new 11th District, and black candidates stand a good chance in western Georgia’s 2nd District against Democrat Charles Hatcher.

Hatcher, who is white, was identified in March as one of the House bank’s 22 worst abusers. One of the four blacks in Tuesday’s six-way Democratic race could unseat him in the predominantly black, Democratic district.

But the four could split the black vote enough to give Hatcher another chance, said Jane Elza, a political science professor at Valdosta State College.

If that happens, a white GOP nominee could parlay the check scandal into a Republican victory in November, said pollster Claibourne Darden.

In Senate races, freshman Sen. Wyche Fowler Jr. has no opposition in the Democratic primary, but five Republicans are fighting for the right to oppose him in November. Fowler has been targeted for defeat by the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Former Peace Corps Director Paul Coverdell, an insurance executive and former state Republican chairman, is the front-runner in the GOP primary. He has raised far more money than his opponents and used it to launch a TV advertising blitz that he hopes will give him the nomination without a runoff.

Update hourly