ATLANTA - When Congresswoman Denise Majette won last week's Democratic U.S. Senate nomination by fending off a wealthy challenger's $1.8 million advertising blitz, candidates in smaller races, such as Roger Boatright, were paying attention.
The former mayor of Alma in southeast Georgia's tiny Bacon County is facing his own tough election battle this fall for the state Senate District 7 seat against a deep-pocketed opponent.
Mr. Boatright, a Democrat who had raised roughly $44,000 in donations before the July 20 primary, squares off Nov. 2 against Republican Greg Goggans, an orthodontist from Douglas who has so far fueled his campaign with at least $160,000 of his own money, state records show.
Having also raised more than $35,000 from individual donors, Dr. Goggans, 46, already has invested $27,000 in billboards, nearly $14,000 in campaign T-shirts and $9,000 in print ads.
Mr. Boatright, 55, said Thursday he is encouraged by Ms. Majette's win in the statewide race against technology entrepreneur Cliff Oxford, a political newcomer who blanketed airwaves during the last six weeks of his campaign with upbeat, polished commercials.
Mr. Boatright says he hopes he can use his lengthy background of public service to beat back Dr. Goggans' multimedia onslaught.
"That's what we're pinning it on," said Mr. Boatright, who has served as mayor since 1990, in addition to a stint as president of the Georgia Municipal Association. "We don't have all that money. I'm a poor boy."
Despite a hefty financial disadvantage, Ms. Majette, 49, was considered the more experienced candidate in last week's two-way race, with a 10-year stint as a state court judge and one term in Congress under her belt. Mr. Oxford, 40, had never held elected office, but hoped his message of protecting Georgia jobs from outsourcing would blunt criticism of his weak political rsum.
Despite Mr. Oxford's big-money campaign, Ms. Majette beat him Tuesday by a 59-41 margin. She now faces Republican Rep. Johnny Isakson in this fall's general election, in which the well-funded congressman is considered a heavy favorite in GOP-friendly Georgia.
"I think experience matters and the voters of Georgia are pretty smart," Ms. Majette said Friday of her win against Mr. Oxford. "They will look at the candidate and evaluate them based on track records of performance and the ability to serve them even better in the future."
However, Dr. Goggans is quick to argue there's a world of difference between a statewide primary campaign for U.S. Senate and a local campaign for a seat in the Georgia Legislature.
"That's a totally different ball game. It's a totally different situation," Dr. Goggans said Friday.
Ms. Majette, who is black, won a statewide contest against Mr. Oxford, who is white, in a Democratic primary season in which roughly half the voters were expected to be black.
State Senate District 7's local voting population is nearly 80 percent white. And when voters go to the polls to decide between Mr. Boatright and Dr. Goggans, there will be Republicans and Democrats making that decision in a district where Republican President Bush won heavily in 2000.
The district sits in rural south Georgia between Interstates 75 and 95, taking in such cities as Waycross, Blackshear, Enigma and Homerville. Democratic Sen. Peg Blitch represented most of the area for the past 12 years before retiring in April.
Dr. Goggans said he thinks voters in the area will respond well to his use of his own money to win the seat.
"I earned that money ... I didn't inherit anything," said the father of four, who has also sponsored many local sports teams and missionary church work.
Upon entering the race earlier this summer, Dr. Goggans said he had no qualms about people knowing he was using $160,000 of his own money to campaign for a $16,000-a-year job in state government. State lawmakers are required to work only 40 days during the annual legislative session and are paid a part-time salary.
"I have been very blessed and I am not ashamed of putting my own money up," Dr. Goggans said in a July interview. "I want people to know how serious I am about this."
Still, Dr. Goggans will have to do more than spend money to win votes, said Merle Black, an Emory University political science professor.
"The personal reputations of the candidates become much more important in local races, where the voter may have had some interaction with (the candidates)," Dr. Black said. "It's not impossible for someone without political experience to do well if they have a reputation for honest straight-forward dealings."
Dr. Black said the strength of Mr. Bush in District 7 should be encouraging for Dr. Goggans.
However, Dr. Black noted that the ideological similarities between Dr. Goggans and Mr. Boatright could make the race tight. Both men are opposed to abortion, against gay marriage and favor "conservative values."
Dr. Goggans said he is ready to earn a victory, explaining that he is working on developing a network of local supporters and donors, and is looking forward to debating Mr. Boatright.
"You can't buy an election," Dr. Goggans said. "You've got to meet with people and ask them for your vote."
Oxford supporter Trish Nance offered encouraging words for candidates such as Dr. Goggans who fund much of their own campaigns.
"The lobbyists ... aren't going to get him," said the 47-year-old Austell resident. "They're not going to be able to get into his pocket."
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