Originally created 05/04/02

Senator's supporters help son's campaign



ATLANTA - Charles "Champ" Walker Jr. is welcoming but not depending on contributions from supporters of his influential father, the state Senate majority leader, in his quest for Congress.

But if Mr. Walker emerges the winner in the new 12th Congressional District's crowded Democratic primary, he might need all the money he can get to take on a surprisingly well-funded Republican.

About 35 percent, or $35,800, of the $101,950 the Augusta Democrat raised in itemized donations during the first quarter of this year came from people who contributed to Charles Walker Sr.'s Senate campaign last year, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission and the Georgia Secretary of State's office.

Itemized donations are donations of $101 or more. The names of those who donated less are not listed.

Even without that money, the younger Mr. Walker would be well ahead of Chuck Pardue of Augusta, his nearest Democratic rival in the race for campaign dollars. Mr. Walker had nearly $201,000 cash on hand at the end of March, compared with about $105,000 for Mr. Pardue.

From the moment Mr. Walker announced he would seek one of Georgia's two new congressional seats, critics have said his father would use his power to steer special-interest money toward his son, stacking the deck against other candidates.

INDEED, THE LIST of donors who have contributed to both Walkers includes such lobbyists of long standing at the Georgia Capitol as Pete Robinson and Joe Tanner.

But it also contains some Augusta business and community leaders who are familiar with both men, including Tyrone Butler, the director of the Augusta Mini-Theater.

Though the theater absorbed a net cut of $37,500 in state funding for next year, the program has received money in past state budgets, including $250,000 in this year's spending plan. The elder Mr. Walker is one of six members of the legislative committee that has the final say over budgets.

But Mr. Butler also has longtime ties to the younger Mr. Walker. He said he has known Mr. Walker since the senator's son began helping with theater fund-raising activities as a teen-ager.

Mr. Butler said he sees the same strong will and determination in both Walkers.

"I ran into (the younger Mr. Walker) on the street one day," Mr. Butler said. "He convinced me he was serious about this. He's not running on his dad's name. He wants to do it."

Mr. Walker takes strong exception to those who credit his front-runner status to his family ties.

"It's an insult to all of my supporters who work hard for me," he said. "I want it. I'm working hard on the phones."

The need for hard work could extend all the way through the November election if Mr. Walker captures his party's nomination and finds himself opposing Republican Cleve Mobley.

The farmer from Waynesboro raised slightly more money than Mr. Walker during the first quarter - about $124,000 to Mr. Walker's $119,000. But because he outspent the Democrat during those three months by about $26,000, Mr. Mobley had a little more than $182,000 cash on hand as of March 31, according to his report to the FEC.

The only other announced Republican candidate in the Aug. 20 primary, Woodrow Lovett of Sardis, raised about $3,200 during the first quarter.

THE VAST MAJORITY of Mr. Mobley's money has come from contributors who live in the sprawling 12th District, which starts in Athens, then snakes southeast through a stretch of rural counties into parts of Augusta and Savannah.

"We've got the grass roots kicking in pretty good," said Tyler Thornhill, spokesman for the Mobley campaign. "We're trying to build a good base of support."

Athens businessman Jim Ivey, one of Mr. Mobley's first-quarter contributors, said a congressman who's not from one of the district's major population centers might take a more balanced approach toward representing all of his constituents.

"My concern about someone from Augusta or Savannah is we'd be totally left out," said Mr. Ivey, who ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate two years ago. "(Mr. Mobley) understands the importance of Athens to the district."

Merle Black, a political science professor at Emory University, said any Republican will be at a disadvantage in the new district, even one who has shown a knack for fund raising.

In September, leaders in the Democratic-controlled General Assembly drew the 12th District to favor the majority party. In a state captured handily by President Bush in 2000, more than 55 percent of the 12th District vote went to Democrat Al Gore.

"If a Republican were to win, it would have to be someone who could raise a lot of money and be organized," Dr. Black said. "But it certainly would be an uphill battle."

CONTRIBUTORS

About one-fourth of the contributors to Charles "Champ" Walker Jr.'s congressional campaign during the first quarter also donated to his father's state Senate account last year. In terms of dollars, more than one-third of the younger Walker's contributions from individuals came from 2001 contributors to Charles Walker Sr.:

  • Total contributors: 145
  • Contributors who also supported Walker Sr.: 37 (25.5 percent)
  • Total contributions: $101,950
  • Contributions from Walker Sr. donors: $35,800 (35.1 percent)
  • Sources: Federal Election Commission, Georgia Secretary of State's office

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