Special-election winner Broun fighting from behind vs. Fleming

If freshly elected Rep. Paul BrounPaul Collins BrounHundreds apply to fill Isakson's Senate seat in Georgia Joe Lieberman's son running for Senate in Georgia California lawmaker's chief of staff resigns after indictment MORE (R-Ga.) had any illusions about an easy reelection next year, they were quickly shattered earlier this month when third-quarter financial reports went public.

His primary opponent, state Rep. Barry Fleming (R), out-raised him by $220,000, sticking Broun with one of the biggest cash deficits among incumbents in Congress. It served as a wake-up call for the three-month congressman, who knows he can no longer simply focus on his official duties, as he would prefer.

Broun shocked the political world by upsetting the establishment candidate in July’s special election. But in his reelection bid, he will be without two things that he had last time: his own money and Democrats.

Broun took out a second mortgage on his home to help self-fund his bid to get into Congress, something he won’t be able to do again. Relying only on his fundraising ability, Broun raised just $50,000 in the last two months of the third quarter, while Fleming raised $270,000, all of it in the last two weeks.

Fleming’s fundraising is indicative of the institutional support that remains opposed to Broun. Fleming, a member of state House leadership, said he will have wide-ranging support from his GOP colleagues in the state legislature, while sources say it appears the congressional delegation will stay neutral instead of propping up Broun.

University of Georgia political science Professor Charles Bullock said Fleming’s early support is an example of one of the advantages of incumbency that Broun will lack.

“I would think that alignment will probably hold for this 2008 contest,” Bullock said.

Broun said he has been surprised at how quickly the next campaign began. He said last week that he began fundraising in earnest around the time those fundraising reports went public.

He recently hired a finance director and said he’ll have the money he needs.

In the special election, Broun self-funded $210,000 and raised $200,000, while his opponent raised more than $900,000.

He acknowledged it will be a process to build his network for the next campaign.

“I’m not a rich guy,” Broun said. “I’m pretty well maxed-out for what I could do, but I’m developing support wherever I can find it, and I’m getting a lot of support throughout the district.”

Broun’s efforts to reach out to the whole district hark back to the special election, in which regional divisions between his home area around Athens and his opponent’s home area around Augusta helped Broun win.

Broun effectively tapped Democrats in the Athens area for votes in his victory over Republican former state Sen. Jim Whitehead in a nonpartisan runoff contest, but the odds are decidedly against a significant number of them crossing over again in a Republican primary in July.

He recognizes the differing dynamics and has been attempting to break down the regionalism that exists. To that end, he opened this month a congressional office in Columbia County, near Augusta, and said he’s working to be a “one-man Chamber of Commerce for every single community” in the district.

That regionalism was exacerbated by Whitehead’s campaign, and Fleming, who is from Columbia County, could employ that same tactic, in theory.

Whitehead drew criticism after his unexpected loss for snubbing other areas of the district and refusing to debate Broun.

Fleming, by contrast, announced that he was exploring the race on an Athens radio station with a host whom Whitehead had irritated by declining to attend a forum.

Fleming said the regionalist approach “was a mistake” and that he plans to “ultimately” debate Broun. While avoiding criticizing Whitehead’s campaign, he said his will be different.

“Any time you lose a game, you always learn more than when you win it,” Fleming said.

One issue that could inflame that regional divide is the University of Georgia’s effort to put a second public medical school near its main campus in the Athens area. Its only current medical school is in Augusta, and people there are concerned about losing resources to Athens.

Both candidates have been careful with the issue so far, but it could loom large next year.

Whatever happens with the school, observers expect Fleming to be much more aggressive in going after Broun. Whitehead declined to go on the offensive against Broun for some of his past statements and a personal bankruptcy, which are generally solid campaign tactics.

“There was plenty of dirt out there that could have sealed the deal, but Whitehead thought the deal was already sealed,” said a state delegation source. “But the thing is, Paul Broun’s past before the special election is not an issue anymore, now that he’s in Congress.

“It’s going to be hard to find a wedge there when this guy has voted with all the other Republicans from Georgia.”

Another source said that Fleming will go after Broun hard, regardless of the material he has at hand.

The source said Fleming will try to shore up support in the Augusta area and look to marginalize Broun as a right-wing extremist.

“He’s made it pretty clear to donors and politicos that this is not going to be a pillow fight,” said a Georgia consultant unaffiliated with either candidate. “He’s going to come after him and make sure everybody knows exactly who Paul Broun is and what he stands for.”