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Democrats Eye Gingrich’s Ga. Seat

November 10, 1998

ATLANTA (AP) _ The best _ and probably, only _ Democratic hope for capturing the congressional seat being vacated by House Speaker Newt Gingrich appears to be the Republicans themselves.

A fight among the Republicans for the seat could just possibly open the door to victory for the Democrats in the district in the suburbs north of Atlanta. Otherwise, the odds against a Democrat winning are high.

``It’s a slam-dunk Republican district,″ said former Rep. Buddy Darden, a Democrat who lost his neighboring district to Republican Bob Barr in 1994. ``A Republican heartland,″ added University of Georgia political scientist Charles Bullock.

Gingrich decided to leave the House after members of his party turned on him over the GOP’s disappointing showing on Election Day. Georgia’s Democratic governor will set a date _ probably early next year _ for what’s expected to be a nonpartisan election, and the list of potential Republican candidates is growing.

Many leading Republicans are encouraging Johnny Isakson, a former legislator and current chairman of Georgia’s Board of Education, to run.

Gingrich, who had expressed confidence his party would keep the seat, said in a statement Tuesday: ``I hope Johnny Isakson will run. He is a very close personal friend and I believe he would do a great job.″

Isakson, the 1990 GOP nominee for governor and runner-up in the 1996 Republican Senate primary, hasn’t announced a decision.

Isakson’s views are considered moderate, including favoring abortion rights. That could set up a bruising battle with more conservative GOP candidates, such as state Rep. Mitch Kaye, who said he is preparing to run.

Others mulling over runs include former state Sen. Clint Day, a staunchly anti-abortion Republican who finished third behind Isakson in the 1996 Senate primary, and Christina Jeffrey, a Kennesaw State University political science professor Gingrich hired and fired in 1995 as House historian.

Gingrich dismissed her in an uproar over her review of a Holocaust course she said should include the Nazi point of view. Ms. Jeffrey insisted that her comments were mischaracterized.

In the nonpartisan election for the House seat, a candidate would need more than 50 percent of the vote to win outright. Otherwise, the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, would advance to a runoff.

Bullock said the Democratic hope in the election would lie in what he called ``a very unlikely scenario″ _ one strong Democratic candidate would finish in the top two against a badly split field of Republicans. Then, in the runoff, a Democrat could win if the Republican ``is so far to the right he or she is unacceptable.″

The only Democrat to express definite plans to run is Gary ``Bats″ Pelphrey, who drew only 29 percent against Gingrich last week.

Some Democrats are urging cookie magnate Michael Coles to run. Coles lost to Gingrich with 42 percent of the vote in 1996, and lost a Senate race last week to GOP incumbent Paul Coverdell.

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