Originally created 09/08/02

Analysts say odds favor Walker



Twelfth Congressional District candidate Charles Walker Jr. says he has what it takes to motivate and inspire people.

His opponent, Ben Allen, calls himself a proven leader who gets things done through "quiet diplomacy."

But the one who gets his voters back to the polls and picks up new ones for Tuesday's Democratic runoff election will be the one to face Republican Max Burns in November, according to political analysts.

The odds favor Mr. Walker.

Georgia Southern University political science professor G. Lane Van Tassell says it will take a "minor miracle" for Mr. Allen to close the gap on Mr. Walker's primary victory, where he led a field of seven candidates with 33.3 percent of the vote. Mr. Allen came in second with 13.6 percent.

"The turnout for the runoff, I think, is going to be pretty light, and for Mr. Allen to have a serious possibility, the turnout's got to be heavy, and heavy in his favor," Dr. Van Tassell said.

"I believe the possibility of that turnout lies in Savannah, possibly in Statesboro, probably not in Augusta. I just don't see the numbers going his way, and in addition I don't see any issue out there galvanizing the voters' attention."

Voter turnout for runoffs is traditionally low. Richmond County Board of Elections Director Lynn Bailey predicts 15 percent to 20 percent overall in Richmond County, higher in parts of the county that are in the 12th District and lower in parts in the 9th District.

University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock predicts "a great deal of variability" in turnout throughout the district, depending on what else is on the ballot.

"In the Athens area, turnout might be reasonably good, because in addition to this congressional runoff there's also a runoff for the mayor of Athens and for a Superior Court judgeship and a runoff for one of the super districts, which would represent half of Clarke County," Dr. Bullock said.

In addition to his substantial primary lead, Mr. Walker has the advantage of name recognition. He is the son of state Senate Majority Leader Charles Walker Sr., and his campaign is well financed with almost $500,000.

Folk wisdom has it that the No. 2 candidate will slingshot past No. 1 in a runoff, but the reality is that the primary leader will win about 70 percent of the time, said Dr. Bullock, who co-wrote a book on the subject.

"We found that in primaries where there are seven candidates, the leader wins about 74 percent of the time," Dr. Bullock said.

Mr. Walker, 34, is running his campaign from the offices that house his business, Bright Ideas, on the second floor of a house at 418 Greene St. Campaign strategy is directed by a team of Atlanta consultants armed with computers and maps.

Mr. Walker's wife, Wren, whom he met at Regency Mall when both were in the ninth grade, is involved in the campaign. They became best friends because of their mutual interest in politics. Motherhood and other interests have since eclipsed her fascination with politics, she said.

Mr. Walker commends Mr. Allen for the clean campaign he has been running but refers to him as "just a politician" who really hasn't done very much during his seven years in the state House.

"Delivery is the difference between Ben Allen and I," Mr. Walker said. "Getting things done. I have a track record as a businessman ...

"And he's taken credit for things that he has not done, like the $30 million for ANIC (Augusta Neighborhood Improvement Corporation). That was not his doing. He voted for it, but that was not his doing."

MR. ALLEN, 48, said Mr. Walker just wants to make people believe nobody has done anything for Augusta but his father, Charles Walker Sr.

"I think I have enjoyed some success in the Legislature," Mr. Allen said. "My leadership style isn't one that I jump up and try to grab the headlines on everything that is done. I don't think you need to do that. I think that there are different ways that you show leadership. You show leadership by building consensus on issues."

Mr. Allen said he is on the board of ANIC and has been involved in neighborhood revitalization and economic development projects in Augusta, including Augusta Common, Phinizy Swamp and the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame.

"In the education realm, I am a direct player because I am the lead attorney for the school board desegregation case," he said.

The Augusta attorney, whose office is across Laney-Walker Boulevard from Sen. Walker's office building, also cited his leadership role in House committees.

"A couple of years after my election, there was a move to get rid of affirmative action," he said. "A bill dealing with that was placed in a Judiciary Committee subcommittee that I chair. I'm the one that held the public hearings in Atlanta on that bill.

"And through my leadership, we held the hearings, and we took the position we were not going to do away with affirmative action in Georgia. Was I supposed to jump up and down and scream and say, 'Look at what Ben Allen is doing?' No."

Mr. Walker said a major difference between him and Mr. Allen is that Mr. Allen is in favor of school vouchers.

"Vouchers, which will rob the public school system of funding," Mr. Walker said. "And I am totally against vouchers. The Georgia Association of Educators and the Richmond County Association of Educators are vehemently opposed to vouchers. And that's going to be key."

Mr. Walker said he has received endorsements from those education groups, the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union.

"We both agree on economic development, but my plan is to create a biotechnology triangle to leverage all of the medical capital that we have throughout the district," Mr. Walker said. "He talks about economic development, but he doesn't have a comprehensive plan on how to get there."

Mr. Allen said he can talk about the research triangle, too.

"I am a part of the people that created the research triangle," he said. "When MCG split the school away from the hospital, who served on the advisory board that had some hearings and made some decisions? Ben Allen was right there.

"Who's part of the legislative delegation that has made overtures to get Augusta designated as a cancer research center? Ben Allen. Right there. In the mix. I don't jump up and down and scream and say, 'Look at me, I'm doing it all.' But I am part of the team that's doing some of these things around here."

VOTING RULES

  • People who voted in the Aug. 20 Republican or Democratic primaries and plan to vote in the Sept. 10 runoff must vote in the same party's runoff.
  • People who did not vote in the primary or voted nonpartisan may vote in either party's runoff.
  • Anyone may vote in the Nov. 5 general election if they are registered by 5 p.m. Mon., Oct. 7.
  • Voters who are disabled or older than 75 may vote an absentee ballot at the Richmond County Board of Elections or request one in writing to be sent by mail.
  • For more information, call the Richmond County Board of Elections at 821-2340.

    Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylviaco@augustachronicle.com.