Originally created 07/20/00

Upset win surprises challenger

The epiphany came not Tuesday, but Monday evening, when two of Sue Burmeister's campaign workers finished canvassing a row of houses on Scott's Way.

Mary Dixon and Helen Minchew hadn't given much attention to this part of District 114 because it was considered Robin Williams' back yard. Surely, they thought, this would be the toughest place for their candidate to gain votes.

But of the 21 people who answered the knock on their doors Monday afternoon, 19 said they would vote for Mrs. Burmeister.

"That's when we knew," Mrs. Dixon said. "That's when we got excited."

"But I never thought I'd win by such a wide margin," Mrs. Burmeister said, still smiling, still gushing over the numbers Wednesday afternoon.

Mrs. Burmeister collected 62 percent of the vote and nearly 1,000 more votes than the incumbent, a veteran lawmaker who had claimed to be one of the more powerful representatives in Atlanta.

"I certainly didn't have the name recognition Robin did among the whole base of people in 114th," Mrs. Burmeister said. "I think they saw a candidate that wanted to stay positive, that wanted to stay on the issues and pointed out the voting record, pointed out some of the controversy."

The campaign headquarters' phone had been ringing all day. Augusta Mayor Bob Young called to offer his congratulations; so did U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood. When the phone wasn't ringing, people were popping in to shake her hand or give her a supportive hug.

Mrs. Burmeister's campaign focused on the need to improve education and still be fiscally responsible. She said she had tried to present that message over and over because those issues were most important to her.

"I thought if I repeated it over and over again, then maybe, maybe, they'd hear my message," she said.

Dr. Ralph Walker, a political scientist at Augusta State University, said he began to think Mrs. Burmeister might pull off the upset about 10 days ago. But he said he was still surprised she won by such a wide margin.

"To be honest, I always think the incumbent has the advantage," he said. "I was surprised; but she campaigned hard, she ran a good race. Robin's mistake - hindsight's so perfect - Robin went a little too negative and Sue worked hard, ran a good campaign, and I think Robin got a backlash from negative campaigning.

"Robin had been there for a while, and over time you collect baggage," Dr. Walker said. "Robin had certainly collected more than his share."

Pieces of luggage that might have weighed down Mr. Williams' campaign were a negative television ad portraying Mrs. Burmeister as a puppet on a string, and flyers sent out three days before Tuesday's primary assaulting what Mrs. Burmeister called her "Christian values."

"That was my low point," Mrs. Burmeister said. "I saw it and said `Oh my gosh, it's Friday. It's the end of the day Friday. Are they going to believe this? Is this going to lose the race for me?' I thought it was going to be close."

That was until the results from the Warren Road polling site came back Tuesday evening, and Mr. Williams called to tell her she was his state representative and he would support her in any way he could.

"I've never disliked Robin," Mrs. Burmeister said. "We've disagreed on issues and philosophies, but I don't dislike his family. .ƒ.ƒ. Robin can be a gentleman. It was humbling."

Reach Justin Martin at (706) 823-3552.


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