Rep. Marshall"s Iraq vote could help inoculate him for 2008 House race

When Rep. Jim Marshall (Ga.) voted against the House non-binding resolution on the Iraq war, he stood out as one of only two House Democrats who bucked their party. But that vote could bolster his chances for reelection in 2008, when he will undoubtedly find himself running against the wind as a Democrat in a conservative district.

Marshall and Rep. Gene Taylor (Miss.) were the only two Democrats to oppose the measure. By contrast, 17 Republican members voted in favor of the resolution, which passed 246-182.

Marshall narrowly defeated former Rep. Mac Collins (R) last year in a race so close that Collins has yet to concede defeat. Collins is widely expected to challenge Marshall again in 2008, in a district that President Bush won with 61 percent in 2004.

Marshall’s office said his vote had nothing to do with his reelection prospects and everything to do with his military background and desire to support troop morale.

Marshall is a former Army Ranger from a military family, and his district contains Robins Air Force Base.

“It’s not something that Jim looked at in terms of elections or reelections,” said Marshall spokesman Doug Moore.

In his floor speech, Marshall said a “yes” vote on the non-binding resolution is like “sitting on the sidelines and booing in the middle of our town team’s play because we don’t like the coach’s call.”

But former Rep. Buddy Darden, another Georgia Democrat all too aware of the political realties facing a Democrat in the Deep South, said Marshall’s vote was “consistent” with the congressman’s unwavering support of the military and his district’s politics. It also has the added benefit of bolstering his conservative credentials in a district he won by just more than 2,000 votes.

Moore said they have no way to measure how people in Georgia’s 8th district have reacted to the vote.

“I’m not sure if it hurts or helps,” he said. “There are a lot of folks who are upset about it. Some folks are happy about it. Jim really didn’t even consider that.”

But Darden was less sanguine, noting that the district, redrawn in 2005 with a much heavier Republican make-up, will always be a tough district for Marshall.

During the midterm elections, President Bush traveled to the districts of both Marshall and Georgia Rep. John Barrow (D), and both men barely survived. Barrow defeated former Republican Rep. Max Burns by fewer than 1,000 votes.

Ron Moon, chairman of the Republican Party in Butts County, a conservative stronghold, said Collins is a “good conservative,” but he doesn’t know whether he will run again. Collins did not return calls left at his home.

Moon did say he thought Marshall’s Iraq vote “helps him” in his quest for reelection, but he called it typical political maneuvering on Marshall’s part. Moon added that Marshall often votes with conservatives when Democrats don’t need his vote.

“That’s a pattern of his,” Moon said. “People don’t keep up, and they think he’s a conservative.”

Marshall spokesman Moore said the office had not heard much angry feedback from the party leadership despite the congressman’s decision to break ranks on the largest symbolic vote in the new Congress.

“I know [the leadership] wanted 100 percent support, so they’re probably disappointed they didn’t get that,” Moore said, adding, “I think they know where he’s coming from.”

Darden compared the current climate to the years when Democrats were in the minority or to the early 1990s, when breaking ranks like Marshall did on this vote would have been “problematic.”

As Darden put it, the party leadership now demonstrates a “cohesiveness and understanding that every vote counts” when it comes to reelection contests, and Democrats in conservative districts do have to break party ranks from time to time.

Taylor, the other Democrat to vote against the resolution, won reelection last year with almost 80 percent of the vote.