WASHINGTON — Just more than a month ago, Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama's campaign pulled a number of field staffers out of Georgia and sent them to such emerging battleground states as North Carolina.
That was before Georgia's early voting showed record-high Democratic turnout, however, especially among African Americans, and polls found a narrowing margin between the major presidential candidates.
That was also before Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss found himself fighting for his political life against Democratic challenger and former state Rep. Jim Martin, who's benefited from the Obama campaign's voter-registration and get-out-the-vote efforts and from increased funding from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
"There's a coattail effect there. The presidential race is affecting the Senate race," said Alan Abramowitz, a political science professor at Emory University in Atlanta. "As Obama has been gaining and attracting new voters, those Obama supporters are also supporting Martin."
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With less than a week before the election, the Obama campaign has shored up its efforts in Georgia. The campaign recently added 100 volunteers to the thousands who already were in place as part of a massive get-out-the-vote effort to chip away at McCain's narrowing lead in the state.
"There's a phenomenal amount of motivation and commitment in this campaign," said Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., who serves as a co-chairman of Obama's Georgia campaign. "People are standing in long lines to early-vote. Some people in Clayton County are standing in line for four hours just to early-vote."
Republicans say they're confident that the state will remain solidly in the red column. Georgia went for President Bush in the 2004 election, and the party sees the elections of Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue, Chambliss and Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson as evidence of its firm hold on Georgia.
"Voters in Georgia will overwhelmingly support John McCain because he does not believe in penalizing success in these economic times," said Mario Diaz, the McCain campaign's Southeast regional communications director. "While Senator Obama continues talk to about spreading the wealth and raising taxes, the hardworking families of Georgia see through his empty rhetoric to what the junior senator really is: an inexperienced politician who is nowhere near being ready to lead."
However, some political experts think that the tide may be turning.
"Saxby Chambliss is worried," said Norm Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative policy-research center in Washington. "Martin is a stronger candidate with an ability to connect with people in a way people didn't recognize at the beginning of the campaign."
A recent InsiderAdvantage poll found Obama leading McCain 48 percent to 47 percent in Georgia, with 3 percent undecided and 2 percent preferring other candidates.
According to the most recent Rasmussen Reports poll, McCain is ahead in the state by 51 percent to 46 percent. In early October, the same poll found McCain up by 9 points. The most recent Strategic Vision poll found McCain ahead 51 percent to 45 percent in Georgia.
According to a recent NBC/Mason-Dixon poll, Chambliss led Martin by 45 percent to 39 percent in the Senate race.
Holding the "red line" in Georgia will require a decided and focused voter-turnout effort, said Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor with the Cook Political Report.
"They have to focus on getting their vote out," she said of the state's Republicans. "They have to make sure every single Republican votes."
Losing Georgia would signal much larger electoral problems, Abramowitz said.
"I don't think they can afford to put much in the way of resources in Georgia," he said of the McCain campaign. "If they lose Georgia, it means they're going to lose big elsewhere."
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