Martin Luther King Jr. once famously declared, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” For Democrats in Georgia this week, that bend toward justice took a decidedly sweet turn when polls between freshman Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss and Democratic challenger Jim Martin showed the two in a virtual tie.
Swept into office by stoking fears of terrorism and overplaying issues of national security, Chambliss now faces being swept out by underestimating his constituents’ real fears about economic security in the wake of the Wall Street meltdown. His dirty campaign against Democratic Sen. Max Cleland in 2002 is legendary for its underhandedness, even by the modern-day standards of Karl Rove’s Republican Party.
Chambliss defeated Vietnam hero Cleland by accusing him of being weak on national security and morphing his face into that of Osama bin Laden in a television ad. This was disgraceful treatment of someone who surrendered three limbs in service to his nation, by someone who received five deferments during Vietnam.
Yet despite the great Democratic trends this year, dreams of avenging Cleland in 2008 appeared unrealistic. Georgia is one of the few states that seemed to be trending Republican. While Democrats racked up nationwide victories at all levels of government in 2006, the Georgia GOP swept all statewide offices. And presidential polls earlier this year suggested that John McCainJohn McCainTrump names McMaster new national security adviser How does placing sanctions on Russia help America? THE MEMO: Trump's wild first month MORE was headed to the kind of massive double-digit lead that President Bush enjoyed in 2004 (17 points), despite early Barack ObamaBarack ObamaWhat Trump can learn from Reagan on Presidents' Day Trump's next immigration challenge may be beyond the northern border Five big Trump narratives to watch MORE campaign organizing efforts.
And former Georgia Rep. Jim Martin, the Democratic nominee for Senate, at first glance seemed an uneasy fit for an increasingly reddening state — pro-choice, pro-civil liberties, pro-environment, pro-gay rights, pro-labor and pro-affirmative action. Early polling confirmed a solid Chambliss lead, and his day of reckoning seemed distant.
Yet last week’s irrational $700 billion giveaway to Wall Street has infuriated Main Street Americans, and Georgia hasn’t been immune to the fierce, anti-Republican backlash. Obama has narrowed the gap to single digits in the state, and Martin is running even stronger. A SurveyUSA poll last week had Chambliss ahead just 45-44, despite having led 53-36 on Sept. 16 — a stunning 16-point reversal in two short weeks. Thinking a statistical tie was too good to be true, I commissioned a Research 2000 poll that came back with nearly the same results — Chambliss holding a razor-thin 45-44 advantage. The race is a confirmed dead heat.
Martin’s support comes heavily from African-Americans, according to SurveyUSA; he’s winning them 84-7 percent, as opposed to whites, among whom he loses to the Republican incumbent 63-27. His path to victory requires either boosting black turnout to 30 percent (the poll assumes 25 percent, the 2004 number), increasing white support to 30 percent, or a combination of both. The SurveyUSA poll suggests Martin is having some luck with whites — his support increased from 18 percent in the mid-September poll to 27 percent in last week’s effort.
The reasons are obvious. Not only are voters angry about the bailout bill, but they are blaming Republicans like Chambliss for the mess. The nation’s economic ills are too deep to be cured before Election Day.
With such startling numbers in Georgia, it’s looking more likely that a filibuster-proof 60-plus majority is no longer optimistic crazy talk. Surely Dr. King would appreciate the justice of a red Southern state delivering a Senate seat to help the first African-American president enact a progressive national agenda.
Moulitsas is founder and publisher of Daily Kos .