Originally created 04/29/00

Parties tout crop of candidates



ATLANTA -- As candidate qualifying for federal, state and local offices ended Friday, Georgia Republicans were confident they had recruited enough quality candidates to give them a shot at taking over at least one chamber in the General Assembly.

At the same time, Democrats were crowing that they picked up two seats in the House before the GOP knew what hit it.

Such was the political spin Friday as the noon deadline came and went on a week of qualifying at the state Capitol.

As the curtain fell, all 11 Georgia congressmen faced at least a nominal challenge this year.

Some, such as Reps. Charlie Norwood, R-Evans, and John Linder, R-Tucker, already have beaten their 2000 opponents by substantial margins. Mr. Norwood prevailed easily over Democrat Denise Spencer-Freeman of Lincoln County in the 10th Congressional District race two years ago, and Mr. Linder trounced Vince Littman, his opponent in the July 18 Republican primary, in 1998 when Mr. Littman ran as a Democrat.

There is no U.S. Senate race in Georgia this year. Democrat Max Cleland's freshman term doesn't expire until two years from now, and Republican Paul Coverdell is in the second year of his second term.

In the General Assembly, Republicans fielded 18 challengers to incumbent Democrats in the Senate and came up with 27 candidates to oppose House Democrats. That's more than enough to give Republicans a chance to win the seven seats needed to capture control of the Senate or erase the GOP's 13-seat deficit in the House, said state Republican Chairman Chuck Clay.

"The message we were trying to get out in our candidate recruiting was that this is the year to run as a Republican," he said. "We've got a presidential candidate (Texas Gov. George W. Bush) who is popular and will run well in Georgia. That will help candidates for the General Assembly."

But David Worley, Mr. Clay's counterpart with Georgia Democrats, said the Republicans are starting from behind.

In the biggest shake-up of the day, Republican Rep. Randy Sauder of Smyrna bolted from the GOP to join the Democrats, too late for the Republicans to come up with a candidate for the 29th House District seat.

Besides picking up that seat, Democrats gained another when the GOP failed to field a candidate for the seat being vacated by veteran Republican Dan Ponder of Donalsonville. And Rep. Buddy DeLoach, R-Hinesville, decided to qualify as an independent, leaving that seat without a Republican candidate.

Mr. Worley attributed an unusually high number of Republican primary challenges filed this week to disagreement over Gov. Roy Barnes' education reform bill. Although only four Democrats in the General Assembly split with the governor and voted against the bill last month, 35 of the 78 House Republicans joined the Democrats in supporting it.

"There's a lot of internal dissension in their party on this issue," Mr. Worley said.

While it's too late for Republicans to run a party candidate against Mr. Sauder, Mr. Clay vowed to find an independent willing to make the run and said he would give him the GOP's backing.

For their part, Democrats qualified to oppose six incumbent Republicans in the Senate and 29 in the House.

Reach Dave Williams at (404) 589-8424 or mnews@mindspring.com.