SAVANNAH, Ga. - They're running against each other in the July 20 primary election, but there was little sign of that during a forum.
Instead, the four candidates for the Democratic nomination in the 12th Congressional District talked a lot about the man they would like to run against in November.
In their first joint public appearance in Savannah, they took turns taking potshots at incumbent Max Burns, R-Sylvania. With equal zest, they teed off on President Bush, whom they portrayed as Mr. Burns' political tag-team partner.
About 35 people attended the event under the oaks of downtown Savannah's Johnson Square. The rally was sponsored by the College Democrats at Armstrong Atlantic State University. Candidates for several other offices shared time at the microphone.
In rhetoric nearly echoed by the other congressional hopefuls, former state Sen. Doug Haines, of Athens, urged Democrats to "turn George Bush into a one-term failure, like his dad, and ... Max Burns into just a footnote in congressional history," he said.
Savannah attorney Tony Center discussed how he thought Mr. Bush and U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., acted "when it was time to protect America."
Mr. Center noted that Mr. Kerry, the presumed Democratic presidential nominee, is a decorated Vietnam War veteran. In contrast, Mr. Center said, Mr. Bush "ducked and ran" during that conflict - and then from Washington, "the night this country was attacked on 9-11."
Mr. Center also tried a bit of one-upsmanship.
After Athens-Clarke County Commissioner John Barrow stressed party unity and called on his opponents to support the eventual nominee, Mr. Center had a reply ready.
"John, I really appreciate that," he said. "I'm looking forward to your support in November."
After stressing his Savannah roots, Mr. Center drew out the words as he welcomed Mr. Barrow and Mr. Haines, the candidates who had come "all the way from Athens, Ga."
The 12th District stretches 230 miles, from Savannah to Athens and Augusta.
Meanwhile, Caine Cortellino, the other Savannahian in the race, stressed his experience in Washington, where he has worked as a lobbyist, or, as he prefers to put it, a "legislative advocate."
In that capacity, Mr. Cortellino said, he worked to "bring federal dollars back to Georgia."
He also said Mr. Burns' voting record shows he has little interest in working people or blacks.
Mr. Barrow lambasted Mr. Burns for his votes on employee benefits, education and environmental pollution.
"It's important to emphasize the things we all agree on," he said.
Mr. Cortellino said that amounts to "99 percent of the issues."
After the rally, other candidates said Mr. Cortellino might have exaggerated a bit. But they generally agreed that the nomination will hinge more on how voters view their experience, qualifications and character than on their stands on issues.
Mr. Barrow said voters also will consider how much support the candidates have.
He has raised more campaign money than all his Democratic opponents combined and has been endorsed by former U.S. Sen. Max Cleland., a Georgia Democrat defeated in 2002, and by the Sierra Club.