By Joel Hall
In the final stretch of what has been a grueling election season, county officials and candidates are preparing for a heavy turnout in Tuesday's general election.
Get out the vote activities are scheduled, volunteers will man telephones and all communities will be peppered with ads supporting the various candidates.
In two key races impacting Clayton and Henry counties, candidates for the U.S. Senate, incumbent Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and Democrat Jim Martin, are criss-crossing the state in search of votes. Both have visited the Southern Crescent recently, seeking support. Elsewhere, candidates vying for the U.S. House of Representatives District 13 seat, incumbent David Scott (D-Ga. ), and challenger, Deborah Honeycutt, plan to continue canvasing for votes.
Election officials, meanwhile, are arming themselves to handle the expected voter deluge.
Matt Carrothers, a spokesperson for the Georgia Secretary of State, said as of Thursday, 31 percent of the state's electorate had already voted. He said on Tuesday, the Secretary of State will deploy approximately 26,000 voting machines, 1,500 poll workers, 50 election monitors with the Office of the State Inspector General, and more than 180 technicians to keep the polls from being overwhelmed.
"We don't expect that to be the case," said Carrothers. "That's why [Karen Handel, Georgia Secretary of State] worked with the legislature to change the law. This is the first year that people have been able to vote early, in person, without an excuse.
"This early voting period will take the pressure off the precincts on election day," said Carrothers. However, long lines have been the rule, even with early voting, as the number of polling places turned out not to be sufficient for the turnout.
In the battle for votes, backers of Chambliss have linked their campaign to Republican nominee Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), while Martin and Scott are being supported by volunteers for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama. (D-Ill.)
Martin, once a long-shot, has closed in on Chambliss' lead over the last few weeks. Democrats around the country have rallied behind him in hopes of a Chambliss defeat. For over a month, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has run attack ads against Chambliss. More recently, the Martin campaign released a radio ad in which presidential candidate Barack Obama personally endorsed Martin.
On Chambliss' end, however, Michelle Grasso, spokesperson for the campaign, said she feels the Republican has picked up steam. "At the end of the day, Georgia Senate races are always close," said Grasso. "I think that we are seeing a lot more momentum for this campaign. I think the size of our crowds is evidence of that. We're seeing a lot of people wanting to work for us and make sure that Saxby gets re-elected."
Grasso said Chambliss has made gains in several Democratic strongholds. In heavily Democratic Clayton County, six out of seven of its mayors, endorsed the Republican incumbent, including Jim Millirons of Morrow, Willie Oswalt of Lake City, Joseph Murphy of Lovejoy, Luther Maddox of Jonesboro, Jack Longino of College Park, and Corine Deyton of Forest Park.
In the race for U.S. House District 13, incumbent Scott has faced dozens of personal attack ads from challenger, Honeycutt, and her supporters. The ads filled the airwaves proclaiming Scott to be corrupt and distant.
"The thing we feel confident [the advertising] has done is increase her name recognition," said Michael Murphy, Honeycutt's campaign manager. "The big difference between '06 and '08 is the name recognition. The polls tell us that there are double-digit undecided [voters] ... Our advertising strategy will bring those to us."
The Scott campaign has fired back with ads of its own, accusing Honeycutt of disguising her conservative, Republican platform. Michael Andel, spokesperson for the Scott campaign, said Honeycutt's ads have "hurt a little bit," but he doesn't believe Honeycutt is gaining traction in the 13th District. He said the Scott campaign has been working in concert with other Democratic campaigns, in order to convince apprehensive voters.
"For a long time, [Honeycutt] has been putting negative media out," said Andel. "I think once voters took a second look, they have not been persuaded by her advertising. We're finding that when people found out that she is a Republican and she opposes Obama, that kind of slows down any momentum she may have had. What she has offered is only personality based," Andel continued. "She hasn't offered any solutions."
Honeycutt's spokesman countered by saying, "We are trying to make it clear that you don't have to change parties to support Deborah, and you can still vote for Barack Obama and support Deborah," said Murphy. "She is a Republican and she is a conservative, but her goal will be to represent all of the people of the 13th District."
Scott's supporters seem cofident, though. Andel said that for the last three weeks, the Scott campaign has gone door-to-door with the Obama campaign, knocking on doors in Clayton and Henry counties. He said the campaign has also been working on "personal voter contact" through live phone banks, and will continue to reach out to voters until the election.
"Congressman Scott's supporters are going to lock arms with other Democrats," said Andel. "People are clamoring for change, and we are going to try to make that happen."