ROSWELL, Ga. -- Johnny Isakson isn't quite a Newt Gingrich. The former state legislator is laid back compared with the personality of the former House speaker.
And Mr. Isakson has been criticized by the conservative wing of the GOP for being too liberal and praised by moderate Democrats who says he is almost one of them.
Still, Mr. Isakson is the clear heir apparent to Mr. Gingrich's seat up for grabs -- perhaps because party leaders see Mr. Isakson as a pleasant change from Mr. Gingrich.
Next week's special election features eight candidates but no serious Democrats.
"Isakson is a type of Republican Democrats can work with," said Emory University political science professor Merle Black. "He's not a Gingrich. They view him as someone they can work with and respect."
Even before Mr. Gingrich confirmed that he would be vacating his seat early, Mr. Isakson's name was tossed out as a possible successor.
Unlike the polarizing Mr. Gingrich, Mr. Isakson's philosophy has attracted both Republicans and Democrats over the years, which may make him an acceptable alternative for many voters, said University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock.
Mr. Isakson, 54, Georgia's state school board chairman and president of Northside Realty, is not a new face to Cobby County. He represented part of the district during his 14 years in the state House and three in the Senate. But his legislative popularity wasn't enough to win the governor's race in 1990 or the U.S. Senate race in 1996.
With the exception of Kennesaw State professor Christina Jeffrey, who was hired and then fired by Mr. Gingrich in 1995 as House historian, most of the others on the ballot for the Feb. 23 nonpartisan special election are little-known contenders.
Mr. Isakson is well-regarded for his ability to build consensus. Appointed to the school board by former Gov. Zell Miller, Mr. Isakson was able to help ease tensions between the bipartisan members.
But in past Republican primaries, he took heat from the most conservative wing of the party because of his opposition to a constitutional amendment banning abortion.
It's an issue he is downplaying this go-around, stressing instead his opposition to partial-birth abortions and support of parental notification for minors considering abortion.
For Ms. Jeffrey's campaign, it's ammunition.
"He is campaigning as a Reagan conservative but he really has a record of a tax-spending liberal," said Tom Campbell, campaign manager for Ms. Jeffrey.
Ms. Jeffrey stresses her anti-abortion stance and ideas espoused by President Reagan, such as lower taxes, less government and strong military defense.
Other names on the ballot include Gary "Bats" Pelphrey of Marietta, who lost to Mr. Gingrich in 1998. Also running are Barry Doublestein of Snellville, chairman of the 11th District Republican Party; Leigh Baier, an Atlanta attorney; Joseph Marco Longo, a salesman from Duluth; and Andre P. Naples, an electrical engineer from Marietta. There's also a write-in candidate, Kelly Brown of Alpharetta.
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