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Immigration, Iraq war dominate Georgia special election

  • Story Highlights
  • Republican headed to runoff, where he could face a Democrat
  • Georgia's 10th Congressional District is a very red district in a red state
  • Fort Gordon lies in the district, and current immigration reform bill isn't popular
  • 6 Republicans, 3 Democrats and a Libertarian sought to fill congressional seat
  • Next Article in Politics »
By Paul Steinhauser
CNN Washington Bureau
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Voters in Georgia's 10th Congressional District went to the polls Tuesday. At stake was Charlie Norwood's old congressional seat representing the northeastern part of the state. The longtime Republican congressman died in February of lung disease and cancer.

Ten candidates ran to fill the seat. And while the special election didn't get a lot of national attention, it was dominated by two national issues: immigration and the war in Iraq.

In the race, GOP former state Sen. Jim Whitehead, of Evans, earned a spot in a July 17 runoff by capturing about 44 percent of the vote, according to returns from the Georgia secretary of state's office.

Two candidates were in a tight battle for the runoff spot against Whitehead. Democrat James Marlow, a high-tech executive from Lincolnton, and Republican Paul Broun, a doctor from Athens, were separated by less than 50 votes, with about 94 percent of the precincts reporting.

If Marlow enters the runoff, he could face a tough battle. Georgia's 10th Congressional District is a very red district in a red state. Merle Black, a southern political analyst with Emory University in Atlanta, says "this is a really conservative Republican district."

And while the district is about 1,300 miles from the border with Mexico, immigration is one of the main issues voters there are talking about.

"I think it is something that has got to be handled, and it has got to handled now. It is out of control," says Sam Beldin, an Augusta, Georgia, resident.

The current immigration reform bill being considered by the Senate doesn't appear to be a favorite in the district. Pearl Portwood, who also lives in Augusta, says "I really don't think what we are proposing right now is going to be very beneficial."

President Bush overwhelmingly won this district in 2004, but all 10 candidates in this campaign broke with him over immigration reform. Black says "none of the candidates is defending the Bush proposals on immigration."

Whitehead, who was considered the front-runner in the race, is dead set against the current immigration reform bill. But he does support the president on the war in Iraq. That's an issue that weighs heavily with voters in Georgia 10.

"Everyone around here either knows someone or has a family member that is there or has been injured or killed," says Martin Rodriguez, a hot dog vendor and 10th District voter.

Beldin agrees, saying, "I think it is a big issue for this country and certainly for this part of the country. We have Fort Gordon here, and we are losing people every day and it touches us very, very strongly."

While it's true the war is hitting home in northeastern Georgia, there's not a lot of outward anti-war sentiment.

As an Augusta resident told CNN: "We got ourselves into it -- good, bad, or indifferent. We need to give 100 percent support to those young men and women who are there and stuck there, not of their own choice but there in service to their country. We need to give them every bit of support we possibly can."

It's obvious people in Georgia 10 are worried about Iraq and they appear angry about immigration reform, but don't expect them to fill Norwood's old seat with a Democrat.

Black says "Norwood was a legend in this district. He was a very conservative Republican."

But of the 10 candidates running, six were Republicans, three were Democrats and one was a Libertarian. So there was always the chance that the Republican candidates would split the vote among themselves, which could lead to a Democratic victory.

Black says "that's unlikely at this point, but not impossible."

No candidate won 50 percent of the vote in Tuesday's election, which led to the July runoff. And if Marlow is one of the two candidates in the runoff, could this heavily Republican district swing to the Democrats? Don't bet on it. Black says "if a Democrat were able to win this seat, especially in a runoff, it would be a huge story." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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