Ex-Rep. Cynthia McKinney Betting on Comeback

Cynthia McKinney (search), Georgia's first black congresswoman, is trying to regain the seat she held for 10 years but lost due to the fallout from her incendiary remarks, particularly on the Mideast and terrorism after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Winning won't be easy, according to political observers and even some fellow Democrats. For one thing, her past statements may be hard for voters to forget.

"It's going to be a real battle. Even if Cynthia gets the nomination, I don't think it'll be a cake walk," said Rep. John Lewis (search), D-Ga.

Before her ouster, McKinney received national attention for her bold comments and conspiracy theories, particulary after the terrorism of Sept. 11, 2001.

She claimed the Bush administration did nothing to stop the attacks because the president's friends stood to profit. She scolded New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (search) for turning down a $10 million gift for the victims' families from Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal (search), after the prince suggested U.S. policies toward the Mideast were partly to blame for the attacks. (She then asked the prince to give the money instead to her home district.)

McKinney also drew criticism for speaking out in support of Palestinian causes and in opposition of American sanctions on Iraq before the war.

Her spoiler in the 2002 Democratic primary, former state judge Denise Majette (search), campaigned on the premise that she would not embarrass her east Atlanta district as she claimed McKinney had. Now, Majette is seeking the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by former Gov. Zell Miller, leaving McKinney's old seat open.

McKinney, 49, and her campaign did not return telephone calls and an e-mail seeking comment. That's not unusual. After she accused Vice President Al Gore in 2000 of having a low "Negro tolerance level" by not having more than one black Secret Service agent, McKinney canceled interviews with The Associated Press.

Some voters say her past remarks are too outlandish for a member of Congress, while others say Washington can use a voice like McKinney's.

"That's the kind of people you need, who's not afraid to go against the grain," said Grace Young, 52, after buying lunch at a Jamaican bakery on Cynthia McKinney Parkway in McKinney's old district.

Virginia Houghtaling, a resident of Stone Mountain Village, said she has serious doubts about what McKinney can accomplish because of her stances. "I don't know if I'd vote for her or not," said Houghtaling, 51.

Charles Bullock, a University of Georgia political scientist, believes McKinney's comments will definitely harm her.

"She's such a well-known quantity now it would be difficult to redefine herself," he said.

And, Bullock added, she is not helped by off-the-cuff comments from her father, Billy McKinney, who himself is trying to regain a Statehouse seat lost in 2002 after 30 years. Before his daughter's 2002 defeat, Billy McKinney spelled out on television the reason he believed she faced such a tough battle: "J-E-W-S."

McKinney blamed her 2002 loss on "malicious crossover voting" by Republicans in her heavily black and Democratic district. A federal judge rejected a lawsuit by McKinney supporters alleging that.

Bullock said white voters were the key to the easy 2002 primary victory by Majette, who is black. Any candidate this year who appeals to white voters has a "reasonably good shot" at winning the nomination, he said.

This year, McKinney's likely competion in the July 20 primary includes state Sen. Nadine Thomas and Atlanta City Council President Cathy Woolard. Woolard is white; Thomas is black.

Majette hinted that she would prefer anyone other than McKinney.

"It will be up to the people ... to decide, do they want to go back to what they had before or maintain and move forward with what has been established with my being in office?" Majette said. "I am confident they will make a wise decision."