Georgia voters settle runoff for Democratic Senate nomination

ATLANTA – A white businessman who’s never held office and a black congresswoman who’s served a single term battled in a runoff Tuesday for the Democratic nomination to succeed Sen. Zell Miller and the right to face a heavily favored Republican candidate in November.

Cliff Oxford, a 40-year-old technology company millionaire, and Rep. Denise Majette, a 49-year-old former state court judge, survived an eight-candidate field in the July 20 primary but a runoff was forced because no candidate won a majority.

The winner faces Rep. Johnny Isakson, a well-financed and experienced campaigner thought to have the edge in the fall election in a state trending Republican. National Democrats have acknowledged it will be an uphill fight to hold the seat of the retiring Miller.

Majette, who led the original voting with 41 percent, would be the first black candidate ever nominated to the Senate from Georgia. Her first-place finish was built on grassroots campaigning and strong support among black voters in metro Atlanta. She lacked financing for a major advertising push.

Oxford was recruited for the race by top Democratic figures including former President Jimmy Carter because of his ability to self-fund his campaign. He spent heavily on advertising from his own pocket and finished 20 points behind Majette in the first election.

Majette gained national attention two years ago when she ousted from office the fiery 10-year Rep. Cynthia McKinney, the state’s first black congresswoman. Majette’s decision to abandon the seat after one term and seek the Senate helped clear the way for McKinney to seek re-election. The former congresswoman won the Democratic nomination for her old seat three weeks ago.

A racially mixed pair also was on the ballot Tuesday for the Republican nomination for Congress from Georgia’s 8th District where Rep. Mac Collins, who lost to Isakson in the primary, was retiring.

State Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, who is white, faced Dylan Glenn, a young, telegenic candidate bidding to become the first black Republican congressman since Oklahoma’s J.C. Watts retired in 2002.

Glenn was backed by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp. Westmoreland countered with endorsements from Georgia’s other senator, Republican Saxby Chambliss, and an assortment of congressmen.

A second Republican runoff paired state Sens. Robert LaMutt and Tom Price for Isakson’s old seat.

The Senate runoff campaign broke little new ground. As she had in the primary, Majette continued to campaign on a record of constituent service. Oxford continued to condemn job exports to foreign countries and to tout his business record of preserving Georgia jobs.

In a weekend debate, Oxford told Majette that Republicans would “open you up like a soft peanut” for voting against a military appropriations bill for Iraq. She said his record of not voting in state elections should make Georgia voters wonder how many Senate votes he might miss.

Neither candidate was on the Democratic Party’s “A” list last year when Miller announced plans to retire at the end of his term. While the Republican field quickly formed, Democrats were scrambling for months as a variety of potential candidates, including former Mayor Andrew Young, considered the race only to decline.

Oxford entered the contest just minutes before qualifying closed.