Charles Walker's shadow stalks the 12th Congressional District.
When Democrats ran state government, they drew the House district for one of their own, sculpting boundaries that corralled every enclave of party loyalty from Savannah to Athens.
Mr. Walker, then a powerful Georgia senator, used his heft to win his son, Charles "Champ" Walker Jr., the 2002 Democratic nomination.
But while voters in the 12th supported Democrats in other major races, they sent Max Burns, a little-known Republican from Sylvania, to Washington.
Four Democrats are out to rectify that this year:
Two Savannahians, attorney Tony Center and lobbyist Caine Cortellino; and two Athenians, Athens-Clarke County Commissioner John Barrow and former state Sen. Doug Haines.
No one is likely to receive a majority of votes needed to win outright on Tuesday, so the two top vote-getters likely will compete in an Aug. 10 runoff.
Little seems to separate the candidates on the issues.
From forums to debates, they seem in lock step on matters such as the need for more money for education, job training and health care.
There's been only one flap: Mr. Haines' support from the Savannah Business League, a mostly black group, some of whose members helped mobilize voters for Champ Walker in 2002.
Mr. Center claimed that the group offered him its backing, but only if he put up $50,000 to run his local campaign.
League Chairman Benjamin Polote denied that his group was selling its support.
Mr. Cortellino and others have denounced Mr. Haines and the league, asserting that an endorsement was bought and sold.
Will any of this matter Tuesday?
Probably not, says University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock.
"I don't think this story has staying power," he said. "It broke weeks ago, before anyone was paying any attention to this race."
But others question whether it's still as easy as it might have been for a candidate with a big checkbook to pay others to herd black voters for him.
"We all know there are groups out there that claim to be able to deliver votes like they did for Champ Walker two years ago," Savannah political consultant Dave Simons said.
"But black voters are increasingly sophisticated. I tell my clients to beware of groups that claim to have a handle on the African-American community. Most of them don't."
Meanwhile, Mr. Barrow raised enough money - about $830,000 as of June 30 - and used TV and radio advertising to spread his message.
Mr. Haines has poured substantial sums - at least $60,000 as of June 30 - into the operation in the Savannah area.
Relying mostly on money he loaned his own campaign, Mr. Center has hoarded enough cash for a final-days advertising blitz.
Mr. Cortellino had only $473 as of June 30 and is relying on his own shoe leather to take his message door-to-door.
Mr. Barrow's family, his campaign Web site notes, has farmed, taught, preached and practiced law - from Athens to Savannah - for at least seven generations.
His father was a longtime Superior Court judge who handled his area's school desegregation cases. His mother was a fixture in local Democratic circles and a delegate to national party conventions.
Mr. Barrow does not wear this mantle lightly.
His personal style - buttoned-down and a little stuffy - apparently hasn't changed since he was in high school.
"I don't think I ever saw him in a pair of jeans," said former classmate Al Davis, a computer executive who's married to Heidi Davis, the mayor of Athens, and remains a close friend of Mr. Barrow.
But Mr. Davis and others describe Mr. Barrow as smart, articulate, loyal, caring and goal-oriented.
"When he sets his sights on something," Mr. Davis said, "he generally achieves it."
After graduating from the University of Georgia, Mr. Barrow earned a degree from Harvard University Law School and was the founding partner of a law firm.
Mr. Center grew up in Fairway Oaks, a Savannah suburb that friends describe as a Leave it to Beaver neighborhood.
Jewish children like Mr. Center went to church with Episcopalians one week, and next week the Episcopalians would show up at synagogue, recalls Savannah businessman Arthur Peagler, a lifelong friend.
Mr. Peagler remembers a day that he, Mr. Center and other friends were riding their bikes.
"A couple of bullies were going to beat us up and take our bikes," he said. "Tony stood them down. 'You don't want to do this,' he said. They said, 'Why not?' He said, 'Because God doesn't want you to.' They left us alone."
After attending the University of Georgia Law School, Mr. Center settled in metro Atlanta in 1975 and practiced law. He didn't return to Savannah until 2001.
In 1992, he won the Democratic congressional nomination in an Atlanta-area district but lost to U.S. Rep. Newt Gingrich - later the speaker of the House.
Shortly after returning home, Mr. Center ran against Champ Walker and five others in the Democratic primary in the newly drawn 12th District. He finished third, missing the runoff by 156 votes.
Mr. Cortellino's campaign slogan is "raising Caine," and he likes to bill himself as the "wild card."
"People don't know what to make of me," he says.
Indeed, Mr. Cortellino's selling points are unusual: youth - he's 27 and sometimes doesn't look that old - and Washington experience.
"Youth is a positive," he said. "We need innovative and new solutions. I can provide them."
Born and raised in Decatur, Mr. Cortellino summered in Chatham County with his grandmother as a child. He moved to Savannah about a year and a half ago.
The Washington experience consists of about a year as a Capitol lobbyist, doing work for, among others, the city of Savannah.
"I've sat across the table from Max Burns," Mr. Cortellino likes to say. "I have more Washington experience than anyone in this race. I know the legislative process."
He acknowledges that the lack of money is an obstacle. But he cites Otis Johnson's win over better-funded foes in the 2003 Savannah mayoral election and says door-to-door campaigning will make the difference. He says he tries to knock on 80 doors a day.
"When we talk to people face to face, that's worth 10 billboards and TV commercials."
A former state legislator once wrote a book called What Makes You Think We Read the Bills?
He wasn't talking about Doug Haines.
The 43-year-old environmental lawyer served just one term in the state Senate but is remembered by colleagues as a legislator's legislator.
They saw him at the Capitol as early as 7:30 a.m. and as late as midnight.
"He has a special knack for meeting people and talking to you about a bill and explaining to you how it would help your constituents," said Sen. Ed Harbison, D-Columbus, the chairman of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus.
Despite his intensity, Mr. Haines was not overly aggressive on the Senate floor, said Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta.
"Veterans here don't tend to appreciate hotshot freshmen," Mr. Fort said. "He chose his issues and pushed for them, but he wasn't a microphone hog."
But 2002 was a Republican year in state politics, and Mr. Haines was swept out. He lost his re-election bid by fewer than 500 votes.
Address: 2141B W. Broad St., Athens, GA 30606
Education: Graduated from University of Georgia and Harvard Law School
Family: Wife, Victoria Pentlarge; son, James, daughter, Ruth
Elective office: Athens-Clark County Commission; elected in 1990
Political background: Longtime party activist
Occupation: Trial lawyer
Campaign office: (706) 613-2330
Web site: www.barrowforcongress.com
Three top issues: Security, education, health care
Address: 414 E. Gordon St., Savannah, GA 31401
Education: B.A. in political science, University of Florida, J.D., University of Georgia Law School
Family: Divorced, two grown children
Political background: Long-time party activist, 1992 Democratic nominee for Atlanta-area congressional district, lost to future House Speaker Newt Gingrich; third in a field of seven Democrats in the 12th in 2002 primary
Occupation: Attorney specializing in litigation, communications and international law
Web site: www.tonycenterforcongress.com
Campaign office: (912) 232-1196
Three top issues: Education, health, environment
Address: 314 E. Charlton St., Savannah, GA 31401
Education: Eberhardt-Karls Universitaet, Tuebingen (Germany), bachelor's degree equivalent in political science and geography
Occupation: Developer of alternative energy sources, on leave from Washington-based C. Anthony Cortellino and Associates lobbying firm; clients included city of Savannah
Campaign office: (912) 341-0095
Web site: www.caineforcongress.com
Three top issues: Jobs, education, reshaping foreign policy
Address: 254 W. Clayton St., Athens, GA 30603
Education: B.S. in political science, University of Wyoming, 1983; J.D. University of Georgia School of Law, 1989
Family: Wife, Lisa; one daughter, Lauren
Elective office: Won seat in state Senate in 2000, was defeated in 2002 general election
Occupation: Attorney specializing in nonprofit public interest and environmental law
Campaign office: (706) 425-1909
Web site: www.hainesforcongress.com
Three top issues: Jobs, education, health care
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