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Georgia Democrats trying to rebuild party, message in state
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After losing control of both houses of the General Assembly, and being outnumbered in the state’s Congressional delegation, Georgia’s Democrats believe they can make inroads on the Republican majorities.

Jane Kidd, chair of the Democratic Party of Georgia, said the tone of change that is the backdrop of national elections could serve voters in local and state elections in the Peach State.

“Republicans did a good job getting elected,” she said. “But they haven’t done a good job governing. There’s been a lot of infighting. I think we will be able to offer a change.”

The GOP took control of both state legislative chambers — they have a 34-22 edge in the Senate and a 106-74 advantage in the House — in 2004. Kidd pointed to Gov. Sonny Perdue’s moves to cut more than $1.5 billion from education since he took office in a 2002 upset of then Gov. Roy Barnes.

The state used to supply nearly 60 percent of local schools’ budgets, Kidd said. That figure is now down to about 35 percent.

“We have never fully funded education,” Kidd said. “We have to fulfill our promise to Georgia’s children.”

She also said no child should be without a family doctor and remarked on the lack of affordable, quality health care.

“All those issues have been disregarded in the General Assembly session,” Kidd said.

The last two years under the Gold Dome showed how little the Republicans can get along with each other, with Speaker Glenn Richardson often at odds with Gov. Perdue and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, according to Kidd.

“It’s been a political grab between the Republicans and trying to outmaneuver each other,” she said. “The Democrats have been able to shine through.”

Democrats have assailed Perdue as a “do-nothing” governor who won re-election simply by not making huge mistakes. That tactic won’t prepare Georgia for the future, according to Kidd.

“We’ve been in a static mode for the last four or five years,” she said. “We have to get better schools and we have to have people covered by health care. We have to train people to be ready to take on the exciting technological world we’re moving into. Health care and education will lead to more growth and economic development.”

Kidd also praised U.S. Rep. John Barrow (D-Savannah), the second-term 12th District Congressman. Barrow lost Effingham by a 3-to-1 margin the last election, but Kidd said the former Athens attorney and proclaimed “Blue Dog” Democrat —Kidd also lives in Athens and has known Barrow for years — represents the district well.

“He has really shown this district he shares their values,” she said. “He has done a fantastic job.”

Of the seven Georgia U.S. House seats held by Republicans, Democrats have fielded opposition against two of them, including Jack Kingston of Savannah. One Democrat incumbent, Jim Marshall of Macon, has had two fellow Democrats throw their hats in the ring for his seat.

Paul Broun, who won a special election to fill the term of the late Charlie Norwood, faces opposition in his own party and from a Democratic hopeful.

“All the Republicans are about equal,” Kidd said. “But in an election year, you might could gain a seat or two.”

The Democrats also are targeting incumbent U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, who garnered nearly 53 percent of the vote in ousting Max Cleland six years ago. The Democrats, who have a slight advantage over the Republicans in the upper chamber, think they can add another seat.

“I do think he is vulnerable,” Kidd said. “His alliance with President Bush has made him vulnerable. If there was ever a year, this is it.”

Should Democrats increase their advantage in the Senate, Kidd said Chambliss’ influence could further wane.

Six Democrats are vying for their party’s nomination to face Chambliss — DeKalb County CEO Vernon Jones, former Atlanta television reporter Dale Cardwell, former U.S. Forest Service ecologist Dr. Rand Knight, Rockdale County teacher Maggie Martinez, former state Human Resources commissioner Jim Martin and Statesboro businessman Josh Lanier.

Martin was the Democratic challenger to Casey Cagle for the lieutenant governor’s seat in 2006.

Unseating an incumbent senator isn’t easy, but Kidd believes it can be done.

“It takes some funding,” she said. “It takes resources to get the message out.”

Kidd is crossing the state, trying to build up the party again at the local levels. While the party is starting to identify potential candidates for the 2010 elections — namely the governorship and the U.S. Senate seat held by Johnny Isakson —returning to the grass roots is job number one for a party that lost a grip it had on the state for nearly a century.

She hasn’t been party chairman for long, but Kidd is a political veteran. She served for a term in the state House of Representatives and she is the daughter of former Gov. Ernest Vandiver. She is also the grand-niece of former U.S. Richard B. Russell.

What the Democrats will be relying on — aside from advertising — is word of mouth, especially when neighbors talk to each other.

“It’s a real under the radar type of campaigning,” she said. “Neighbor to neighbor — that’s what it’s all about. I am optimistic and feel really good about electing more Democrats.”