Election 2002: Early Returns from Georgia’s Primary
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GWEN IFILL: Say good-bye to one of the most outspoken members of Congress from the right, Republican Bob Barr.
REP. BOB BARR: We are witnessing nothing less than the symptoms of a cancer on the American Presidency.
GWEN IFILL: And also from the left, Democrat Cynthia McKinney.
REP. CYNTHIA McKINNEY: The second primary, which was instituted in the state of Georgia for the express purpose of keeping Negroes and liberals out of public office in Georgia.
GWEN IFILL: Barr and McKinney, members of the House from Georgia, were each defeated yesterday by wide margins, but that’s where the similarities between them end.
REP. CYNTHIA McKINNEY: Well, I am not afraid of the word “liberal.”
GWEN IFILL: And McKinney’s not afraid of the word “controversy” either. In the months leading up to the primary, she suggested the President knew about the September 11 attacks in advance, a remark that unsettled Republicans and Democrats. But she’s never shied away from unsettling people.
REP. CYNTHIA McKINNEY: Ever since the beginning of… of my political experience in Georgia, I have been fighting the good fight, a real good fight, against the good ole boys from the bad old days, and I will always have that fight to fight.
GWEN IFILL: Barr was best known for his early and repeated calls for President Clinton’s impeachment and his role as a manager of the House impeachment trial.
REP. BOB BARR: If people believe that it is, indeed, okay for the President of the United States of America to perjure himself, to lie under oath, to make false and misleading statements under oath, then let them have the backbone to stand up and say so.
GWEN IFILL: He was defeated last night by fellow Republican Congressman John Linder.
REP. BOB BARR: You all are the American sound and I will never ever forget it. Thank you so much for what you all have done.
GWEN IFILL: McKinney blames her defeat on Republicans who cast votes in the Democratic primary for her opponent, Denise Majette.
REP. CYNTHIA McKINNEY: We saw massive Republican crossover into the Democratic primary. (Booing) And it looks like the Republicans wanted to beat me more than the Democrats wanted to keep me.
GWEN IFILL: Neither McKinney nor Barr have yet said what they will do next.
GWEN IFILL: Now, for a look at the story behind the vote in Georgia, we’re joined by Merle Black, professor of political science at Emory University in Atlanta, and co-author of “The Rise of Southern Republicans”; and Norman Ornstein, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute here in Washington. Merle Black, we just heard Cynthia McKinney say it looks like the Republicans wanted to beat me more than the Democrats wanted to keep me. Is that what happened?
MERLE BLACK: Yeah, there’s a lot of truth in that. There was a tremendous Republican crossover. I think stimulated in large part by a couple of the statements that McKinney made in the wake of 9/11. One was the letter to the Saudi prince asking for the $10 million that Mayor Giuliani had turned down from New York City and then the allegation later on that President Bush knew about this and didn’t do anything about it and even financially benefited from that. That mobilized tremendous antagonism toward McKinney among Republicans and a lot of white Democrats in the district and I think also softened her support among black Democrats in the district too. I think in a real sense she kind of talked herself out of a very safe seat.
GWEN IFILL: Norm Ornstein, is that what happened? Let’s talk a little bit about the Democrats who weren’t there for her. If the Republicans all gathered together and decided it watts worth it to cross party lines in this open party system in Georgia to do this, where were the Democrats?
NORMAN ONRSTEIN: The Democrats weren’t with Cynthia McKinney. It was 58 percent for Denise Majette to only 42 percent. We thought this would be a toss-up race. It was a very large turnout for a primary, well over 100,000 people. She lost by 18,000 votes. It doesn’t look as if the Republican crossovers came anywhere close to that. The controversy that Cynthia McKinney had basically brought around herself for a long period of time — some of it over the Middle East where she had taken a strongly pro Arab anti-Israel stand, brought in a large amount of money, Arab money for McKinney and Jewish money for Majette gave Majette an opportunity to get a message across, something that a challenger can rarely go.
All the controversy though turned off a lot of voters including, as Merle said, a lot of the white Democrats as well. And she really did lose by a substantial margin. It’s something that has caused, I think, some discomfort for the black caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus, which supported her strongly, most members did — as they had Earl Hilliard another member of the caucus who lost in Alabama just a couple of months ago with some of the same issues, but we’re seeing, I think a pretty clear statement by the voters in this district.
GWEN IFILL: Merle Black, this clear statement that Norm Ornstein was just talking about, did it translate to the money that was actually coming from outside the district? For those of us in Washington it looks like you add one and one and it equals two when it comes to the Jewish and Arab support for each candidate but did it really add up on the ground?
MERLE BLACK: Oh, yes. I think it enabled Denise Majette to run a very effective campaign on television — lots of advertising both positive and negative. She responded to the charges that McKinney was making against her. And she also did a lot of mailings throughout the district too. Some were very, very positive in terms of explaining who she was, what she was about, what she had done in the past. Others were really quite critical and pointed toward Cynthia McKinney. So the outside money was crucial in this. I think Majette, the challenger had more money than McKinney did in the end – certainly she raised a lot more money in the last month-and-a-half of the campaign so it enabled them to come together.
GWEN IFILL: Sorry to interrupt. Who is Denise Majette? Who do voters think they voted for? We know they voted against Cynthia McKinney who is she?
MERLE BLACK: Denise Majette is a black woman in her 40s who was an undergraduate at Yale and a law student at Duke University. She has been a state judge in North Carolina for a number of years. She left her judicial position to run for this — took a big risk. And in the course of the campaign I think became a stronger campaigner. She really is a novice politician. It showed last night in her acceptance speech. It showed throughout the campaign and in the one public debate that they had that was televised but she got a lot stronger during the campaign and she showed a capacity to really reach out to lots of different people within the district. She really put together a very broad-based coalition of support.
GWEN IFILL: Norman, in the end two African-American college- educated well spoken women with high profiles at least as the campaign wore on, were they more different than alike in the end?
NORMAN ORNSTEIN: You know, there are some similarities there certainly but there’s a difference in approach and ideology. Cynthia McKinney, as she said is proud to call herself a liberal. In many respects she’s pretty much on the fringe left. That was true of Arthur… of Earl Hilliard in Alabama as well.
Denise Majette is mainstream. You couldn’t call her a conservative but she is more moderate in many issues including some social issues and economic issues – and obviously a very accomplished person. While a political novice she is going to come to Washington I think with an extremely high profile as a result of this. And she along with Arthur Davis who is a Harvard-educated 34-year-old in Alabama represent a new face in some ways for the Black Caucus and both will be stars.
GWEN IFILL: Let’s talk about Bob Barr’s election. He was defeated by an incumbent — two Republicans kind of thrown into the same jar to fight each other out. What happened there?
NORMAN ORNSTEIN: As we discussed a couple of weeks ago on the NewsHour, in some states at least where one party has complete control of the machinery, they’re able to manipulate the districts to the disadvantage of the other party. The Democrats did this in Georgia. They managed to throw these two fairly powerful incumbents together in the same district — both conservatives but with a different twist.
Bob Barr is a movement conservative — somebody who thinks more of ideology than of party. And John Linder is quite conservative but very much an institutional type, on the Rules Committee. The district leaned a little bit more towards Linder but Barr put a lot into this, got a lot of activists from outside to come in, ran a very tough campaign, tried to portray Linder as a liberal, which was pretty absurd on the face of it. He also got trounced, which we hadn’t expected.
GWEN IFILL: Merle Black, one of the things that Bob Barr did was he tried to raise money by sending out flyers during this campaign saying, listen, Bill Clinton is still trying to take me down. Did that just not work?
MERLE BLACK: No, it didn’t work. I think part of the basic problem that Barr took was that he tried to turn John Linder into something that Linder is not. Gwinnett County is the largest county in the district. It’s kind of Linder’s home base. The strategy that Linder had was to try to beat Barr by at least two to one in Gwinnett County. He thought if he did that there wouldn’t be anyway that Barr could make that up in the other counties in the district. Linder is a very conservative and well known politician in Gwinnett county. Barr came in and treated him, you know, like a Democrat or like someone undergoing cross-examination in a trial. Barr is a former prosecutor. Linder is a former dentist. In the debates they have it’s no contest. Linder is all over, he’s surrounded by Barr but in the process I think Linder became a much more sympathetic figure.
And the people in Gwinnett and some of other counties in the district just did not buy what Bob Barr was saying about John Linder. They thought Barr was the interloper in the district. They thought it was Linder’s district and Barr should be campaigning in another district and helping the Republican party remain a majority in that Congressional election.
GWEN IFILL: Does the outcome of these two primaries mean that Georgia voters are now embracing moderation?
MERLE BLACK: You know, I think there’s something to that, because two voices, one on the left, one on the right, have been kind of taken away by voters. It may well be that in the after math of 9/11 what voters are looking for is someone who can compromise, be moderate, show ability to have judgment, not just to take positions, just not be a position taker but someone who can try to resolve conflicts and move on in our society. Solve problems. In that context it made it more difficult I think for Cynthia McKinney and also for Bob Barr.
GWEN IFILL: Same question for you.
NORMAN ORNSTIEN: That’s the most interesting aspect of this in many ways other than the change in the composition of the Black Caucus and its direction. For years we have thought because more and more seats were becoming safe the real contest in the primaries, the primaries dock natured by ideological activities we saw Congress move to the left and right. This may be a sign of an adjustments in some of these primaries. Clearly the most ideological candidates starkly left and right were rejected by a substantial margin here. Perhaps it’s a trend.
GWEN IFILL: Norm Ornstein and Merle Black, thank you both very much for joining us.
NORMAN ORSTEIN: Thanks, Gwen.
MERLE BLACK: Thank you.