Crossover voters were key in Georgia races
Colorful, controversial incumbents defeated
ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Democrat Denise Majette and Republican John Linder are surely thanking supporters for their smashing victories in Georgia's congressional primaries. But there's another group they should probably recognize -- the swarms of voters who held their noses and crossed party lines Tuesday to push Majette past Rep. Cynthia McKinney and Linder over Rep. Bob Barr.
"It looks like the Republicans wanted to beat me more than the Democrats wanted to keep me," McKinney said Tuesday evening, referring to the large number of Republicans who took advantage of a state law that lets them switch parties on primary day.
McKinney might have been bracing for this tidal wave -- state officials are probing whether her campaign produced telephone calls telling Republicans that it was illegal to vote in the Democratic primary without proper documentation.
Crossover voting, legal in only a handful of states, is being credited with the surprisingly strong showing by Majette and Linder, who were locked in dead heats in polls leading up to the vote but who each won by double digits.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Majette, a former state court judge, beat the five-term congresswoman 58 percent to 42 percent in the DeKalb County-based 4th Congressional District; Linder outpolled Barr by an even more striking 2-to-1 margin in the Gwinnett County-based 7th Congressional District.
Majette and Linder are heavily favored this fall in their respective districts, both party strongholds.
"Crossover voting was a huge factor" in the 4th district, said Merle Black, a political science professor at Emory University in Atlanta. "As many as 20,000 voters. There was overwhelming participation in the Democratic primary in north DeKalb, a lot of which is strong Republican territory, and there was very little activity in the Republican primary. Massive amounts of Republicans were voting in the Democratic primary, because that's their only opportunity to vote McKinney out of office."
Still, voter turnout for McKinney was roughly the same as it was in her last three primaries. She received about 42,000 in 1996 when she won contested primary against three little-known challengers, 42,000 when she was unopposed in 1998, 40,000 when she was opposed in 2000, and 47,000 last night when she was in the fight of her life.
Black said Linder would probably have prevailed without help from non-Republicans. Nonetheless, he said Linder likely benefited strongly from Libertarian voters, whose party ran a stinging TV ad this month criticizing Barr for opposing the use of medical marijuana.
Tuesday's election returns delivered an extra sting to Barr, who sold his home in the new 11th district to run against Linder in the 7th. Barr did so to avoid another competitive race in the west Atlanta suburbs. However, it turns out that if Barr had run again in the 11th and won this week's primary, he would have faced Democrat Roger Kahn, whom he handily defeated in 2000.
Analysts said crossover voters -- especially Republicans in Majette's district who declined to participate in the state's competitive gubernatorial and Senate primaries -- were motivated by the controversial comments of Barr and McKinney, who differ on almost all policy issues but both embrace polarizing styles and took on sitting presidents.
Barr, a former U.S. attorney, became a staple of conservative radio and television talk shows in the late 1990s as the earliest and chief advocate of impeaching then-President Clinton. McKinney was one of the first Democrats to directly criticize President Bush after Sept. 11, saying he may have withheld warnings about the upcoming attack because his allies stood to gain financially.
She also said she would have accepted a $10 million check from a Saudi prince for victims of the attacks that New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani spurned after the prince suggested that America's policies in the Middle East were partially to blame for the hijackings.
The Arab-Israeli conflict played a small, but important role in the McKinney-Majette race. On Monday, state Rep. Billy McKinney, spelled out the reason for his daughter's tough fight: "J-E-W-S," he said on television. For his part, the elder McKinney was forced into a runoff with John Noel in his fight for re-election to the Georgia Legislature.
Elsewhere in Georgia, Rep. Saxby Chambliss handily won a three-way race for the GOP Senate nod. Chambliss will face Sen. Max Cleland, a Democrat, who formally kicked off his campaign Wednesday. State Sen. Sonny Perdue, a Republican, narrowly avoided a runoff in his party's three-way gubernatorial primary, but Perdue is an underdog in his fall challenge to Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes.
Meanwhile Tuesday, voters in Wyoming nominated candidates for their open-seat gubernatorial race. Republicans chose former state House speaker Eli Bebout, who is favored over Democrat Dave Freuedenthal, a former U.S. attorney.
--From CNN Political Editor John Mercurio
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