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U.S. Sen. Chambliss gets mixed reviews on the Southside

By Joel Hall and Jaya Franklin

jhall@news-daily.com

U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, who is up for re-election as he nears the end of his first six-year term, made his way through the Southern Crescent this week with the goal of swaying Southside voters in the Senate Primary, which will take place on July 15, next year.

However, the senator was met by mixed reactions, mostly due to his stay-the-course stance on the war in Iraq. While he believes the signs of progress in Iraq are visible, some detractors believe he is blindly following the president.

On Monday, Chambliss visited the Henry County Administration Building in McDonough to greet citizens and talk about his platform, but was met by protesters from all over the state of Georgia, many of whom oppose his stance on the war.

Billie Daniels, a member of the Lithonia-Dekalb Citizens for Peace Coalition, said, if she could tell the senator anything, it would be to put an end to the war and stop following in the president's footsteps.

"I would tell the senator to stop rubber stamping George Bush's war and to listen to his constituents, who overwhelming want out of Iraq, now," said Daniels.

Suzanne Grimm, a protester from Sharpsburg, believes her cousin's depression, and experience fighting in the war, led to his death. "I had a relative that didn't die in Iraq. He committed suicide, once he returned home," she said. Grimm believes that the war in Iraq is futile.

In response to the protests, Chambliss said he was pleased to see people exercising their right to disagree. "This makes me feel good about being an American," he said. "They have the right to express their opinion; this isn't a popular war, it never has been."

Chambliss was met by a much friendlier crowd when he visited Butch's Restaurant on Highway 54 in Jonesboro Tuesday morning. Nearly 100 Clayton citizens and elected officials, many of whom are Republicans, had breakfast with the senator and listened to him speak about the progress American troops are making in Iraq.

Chambliss spoke of his first visit to Iraq three years ago, when it was so dangerous that, upon landing at Baghdad International Airport, his group had to take a battle-ready Apache Helicopter and fly at rooftop level, rather than drive into the fortified Green Zone.

He said when he visited Iraq again, earlier this year, instead of flying into the Green Zone, he flew directly into Tikrit -- the hometown of deposed dictator, Saddam Hussein -- speaking directly with locals. He mentioned visiting with local leaders in Ramadi, once the operational base of al-Qaeda in Iraq.

He also recalled driving from the Green Zone and spending an hour and a half visiting in Sadr City, the birthplace of radical Muslim cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr. The area, once controlled by Sunni militants, is also called Iraq's "Triangle of Death," because of its unfriendliness to foreigners.

"They have now cleaned out Ramadi," said Chambliss. "We were able to walk right around in the Triangle of Death ... it's once again a thriving community. There are a lot of good things happening in Iraq."

In addition to rallying for strong border control, Chambliss spoke about his position on the State Children's Health Care Program (SCHIP), also known as PeachCare in Georgia.

He supported the bill when it was created in 1997, but voted against recent attempts to expand SCHIP, believing it would make Georgia taxpayers responsible for families in other states who can afford adequate health care.

Many visitors agreed with Chambliss's point of view. "I came here by happenstance, but I really enjoyed it," said Butch Ollis, owner of a sign-making business in Jonesboro. "He persuaded me to vote for him."

"I've supported him in the past, and based on what he said, I will continue to support him in the future," said Fred Edenfield, a financial strategist from Jonesboro. "I like his approach to immigration, because we have to get a handle on it."

Jonesboro City Councilman and former Army solider, Roger Grider, believed Chambliss gave a true view of what was happening in Iraq. "I don't believe that we get the true image of what is going on there from the media," he said.