Originally created 11/06/96

Ga house



In a bitter race that mirrored the battle nationwide for control of Congress, U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood overcame a tough challenge Tuesday from Democrat David Bell to retain his 10th Congressional District seat.

Democrat David Bell upset U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood to win the newly redrawn 10th Congressional District seat.

U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood Democratic challenger David Bell in the race for the newly redrawn 10th Congressional District seat.

With of 24 counties reporting, Dr. Norwood had percent of the vote to for Mr. Bell. Dr. Norwood had a vote advantage in Columbia County with while Mr. Bell lead in Richmond County by votes with . Those two counties make up 43 percent of the district.

While Dr. Norwood was aided by a big advantage in fund-raising, pulling in more than $1.3 million to Mr. Bell's $450,000, Mr. Bell was aided by a redrawn district where the number of black voters doubled.

Mr. Bell tried to make the race a referendum on Dr. Norwood's record with the GOP Congress by criticizing votes to curb spending in education, Medicare and the environment, a theme sought by Democrats from President Clinton down. At every turn, he tried to tie Dr. Norwood to controversial House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

But in the end, Dr. Norwood was able to convince voters his record was a conservative step toward saving the country rather than a mean-spirited attack on the poor and elderly.

"Ninety percent of 10th District of Georgia is common sense conservative people," Dr. Norwood said. "Our message is right for the 10th District of Georgia. Whichever party you're in, it doesn't matter, whichever color you are it doesn't matter."

Though Mr. Bell criticized him for wanting to abolish the Department of Education, that's where their philosophical differences came through.

"I believe (education) ought to be run and controlled by mommas and daddies and teachers and principals," Dr. Norwood said. "He believes we should simply send more money to Washington to hire more bureaucrats to tell us what to do so we can remain 49th in the country."

Mr. Bell said the voters showed they believed Dr. Norwood's defense of his record on education and Medicare more than they bought his attack on it.

"They accepted his agenda more completely than mine," Mr. Bell said. "I think he did a better job of articulating his agenda than did I. It's an acceptance and a reflection of his two years in office."

And it was the voters that rejected that Norwood-Gingrich agenda, Mr. Bell said.

"They felt it went too far, it was not in touch with the common people of the 10th District," he said. His successful message was one backing "education, Medicare, fairness for all, fairness for working men and women, environmental concerns."

Part of his strategy included a letter campaign with an absentee ballot application, and every county in the district had a record absentee ballot vote this year, he said.

"We were thinking they were target groups, very concerned with Medicare, and all the polls nationally indicate the senior vote is breaking very strongly for the Democrats right now," Mr. Bell said."It was a message of trying to reach out to all aspects of the district."

Dr. Norwood blamed a union-paid ad campaign that criticized his votes on Medicare, education and pension plans.

"There was a tremendous amount of outside influence in this district, a tremendous amount of outside money in this district," Dr. Norwood said. "They spent millions of dollars all year lying to people, confusing people and scaring people. And we were not able to turn that around. They never lied about a vote. They just lied about what the vote meant."

Both candidates had to spend considerable time in the new district and tailor their message to a new, more diverse constituency.

Dr. Norwood said he was not writing off the black voters.

"Our message is right on with most black Georgians," he said. "The working blacks want to keep more of their money. They want decent health care."

It was a fact also not lost on Mr. Bell.

"I knew I could not win the race with one constituency but had to build bridges," Mr. Bell said. "Our message was to solidify the Democratic base and then reach out to an acceptable percentage of the independent vote."

Part of his strategy included a letter campaign with an absentee ballot application, and every county in the district had a record absentee ballot vote this year, he said.

"We were thinking they were target groups, very concerned with Medicare, and all the polls nationally indicate the senior vote is breaking very strongly for the Democrats right now," Mr. Bell said. Dr. Norwood's task was to sell his record was a conservative step toward saving the country rather than a mean-spirited attack on the poor and elderly.

"Ninety percent of 10th District of Georgia is common sense conservative people," Dr. Norwood said. "Our message is right for the 10th District of Georgia. Whichever party you're in, it doesn't matter, whichever color you are it doesn't matter."

Tuesday's winner will call the 10th District office home for a long time to come, said University of Georgia political scientist Charles Bullock.

"This will be a pivotal year for the 10th District," Dr. Bullock said. "If a Democrat wins, it will be difficult for a Republican to oust him. But if Norwood wins, the seat should be safe into the next century."