WASHINGTON — Truth be told, Rep. Jim Marshall, D-Macon, hasn’t had a good election scrap in a couple of years.
After all, even though the district leans Republican and voted for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz, during the 2008 presidential elections, Marshall defeated Rick Goddard, a retired Air Force major general, with 57 percent of the vote.
But that was before an anti-incumbent sentiment settled like a pall on political races across the nation, bedeviling well-heeled and seemingly safe congressional colleagues from coast to coast. That was before state Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ashburn, who won the Republican nomination for the 8th Congressional District of Georgia on Tuesday, proved able to suitably stock a war chest — he showed $251,000 in receipts during the last quarter compared to Marshall’s $165,000 in receipts for the same time period, according to Federal Election Commission records.
“Scott’s fundraising puts this race on the map,” said David Wasserman, House editor at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “South Georgia is treacherous territory for Democrats during midterm elections.”
Marshall has raised more overall — about $1 million — and the four-term incumbent’s campaign dismisses Scott as a “career politician looking for his next job.” Scott, a state lawmaker with 14 years of experience, nixed a planned run for governor and focused instead on the 8th Congressional District race. Still, Marshall is taking the challenge seriously, and both campaigns publicly decry what each sees as hypocrisy on voting records.
Though both camps are keeping their campaign playbooks close to the vest, saying only that they plan on fanning out across the district to meet voters, it is likely that both parties will ratchet up the stakes now that the race has netted some national interest.
“We view this race as very competitive, and it wasn’t before Austin Scott got into the race,” said Andy Seré, regional spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “Jim Marshall has beaten back challengers before, so he didn’t start out this election cycle at the top of our target list.
“Scott raised a substantial amount of money, and he won a three-way primary without a runoff.”
“This district is symptomatic of what is happening across the country and even more so in the South,” Seré said. “Democratic incumbents thought impenetrable are finding themselves in competitive races. He has not been on the ballot when the political climate has been so tilted against his party.”
The national environment is very different from what Marshall has had to face the past couple of cycles, and the mood from 2006 to 2008 glossed over how difficult it is to win as a Democrat in a Republican-leaning district, said Nathan Gonzales, political editor at the nonpartisan Rothenberg Report. Marshall’s challenge will be to remind voters that he is a moderate Democrat who isn’t afraid to vote against his party, Gonzales said.
“He’s part of the party in power,” Gonzales said. “He can’t be seen as a regular run-of-the-mill Democrat. He has to show he is independent from the party he is a part of.”
Marshall is a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of fiscally conservative congressional Democrats. He voted against the Obama administration-backed nearly $1 trillion health care overhaul, voted for an effort to repeal the health care mandate and recently wrote a piece for the conservative National Review calling the law “a few boxcars added to a runaway economic freight train hauling the nation toward bankruptcy.”
However, Scott points out the congressman also voted for the more than $800 billion economic stimulus package, another key legislative battle for the Obama administration.
Scott says he would have voted against the health care reform efforts and pushed for a repeal of the law. He favors eliminating the U.S. Department of Education in favor of education block grants to states and says he would have also voted against the economic stimulus package.
“Jim, when he’s in Georgia he says he’s conservative, but when he goes to Washington he votes with Charlie Rangel,” Scott said, referring to the politically embattled Democratic New York congressman.
“I’m a man of my word, and what I say I’m going to do in Georgia, I’ll do in Washington.”
Marshall could not be reached directly for comment, but his campaign points out that as a member of the Georgia state Legislature, Scott voted to approve budgets that included federal stimulus funding.
As for the heightened level of competitiveness in the race ... well, that’s just par for the course, said Marshall spokesman Doug Moore.
“We never expected it was going to be an easy race,” Moore said. “Jim works very hard to reflect the values of the district, and people know that about him and they respect him for that.”