Cleland Lead Shrinks in Georgia Senate Race

Published October 22, 2002

| FoxNews.com

Georgia's incumbent Democratic Sen. Max Cleland lost an arm and both legs during the Vietnam War, but in this year's wartime election battle for the U.S. Senate, Cleland is fighting for his political survival.

His commitment to national security has come under attack from Republican Rep. Saxby Chambliss, who is challenging him for his seat.

Recent polls give Cleland a six-point lead, but that has been steadily shrinking as Chambliss surges late in the campaign.

The Chambliss attack is one of the toughest in the country, blasting Cleland for opposing President Bush's plan for a Department of Homeland Security, then claiming he should not be questioned because he's a veteran.

"The fundamental focus of his campaign is that he served in the military and 'you ought to vote for me because of what I did in the past, not because of how I have been voting,'" Chambliss said during a campaign event this weekend.

Chambliss has even used pictures of terrorist leader Usama bin Laden and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in attack ads against Cleland.

An indignant Cleland is attacking back, hoping voters will be turned off by the Chambliss offensive.

"Quite frankly, for someone who had never served in the U.S. military to attack me on my service and my patriotism to this country is inexcusable," Cleland said.

But Georgia's Veterans of Foreign Wars have endorsed Chambliss, who said that the question isn't about either candidate's war record, but their voting records.

Cleland did vote for war with Iraq if necessary, and backed the Democratic plan for a Department of Homeland Security, which calls for decreasing the president's authority to hire, transfer and fire non-performing employees.

"I voted for the homeland security agency five times on the floor of the Senate and for a bipartisan compromise on the workforce issue," Cleland said in defense of his record.

But Georgia's other senator, Democrat Zell Miller, backed the president's homeland security plan, and though he supports Cleland's re-election, he denounced Cleland and other Democrats for causing homeland security gridlock in order to court labor support.

Like most Democrats nationwide, Cleland prefers to focus on domestic issues like the economy.

"We need to make sure that we look after our workers. More and more of our workers are being laid off and this economy is taking a dive," he said.

Cleland is attacking Chambliss on the air as too conservative.

"The more you know about Saxby Chambliss, the worse he is for families," a recent ad says.

But Georgia is a fairly conservative state, choosing Bush over Gore 55 to 43 in 2000, and Chambliss is not letting up.

"Whether you are talking about moral issues, social issues or fiscal issues, Max Cleland is out of touch with the way a majority of Georgians think," he said.

For months, Republicans have predicted that Georgia would be their sleeper contest, a come-from-behind win that would shake up the state and the Congress.

The race is shaping up to be the most expensive in state history and Democrats find it impossible to believe that a veteran could be ousted during wartime.

Fox News' Carl Cameron contributed to this report.

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