Former Georgia State Senator Favored in Special Election to Replace Charlie Norwood

In what could be a harbinger of next year's congressional campaigns, Iraq and immigration have dominated the special election to replace deceased Republican Rep. Charlie Norwood in northeast Georgia.

Ten candidates — six Republicans, three Democrats and a Libertarian — have lined up to represent the 10th Congressional District, which includes Athens, home to the University of Georgia, as well as Fort Gordon and parts of Augusta.

The election on Tuesday is the first congressional contest since the Democrats won control of Congress last year and it will be watched closely for any clues it might provide to the high-stakes 2008 elections. A strong Democratic showing in the GOP-leaning district could spell more trouble for Republicans next year as the war in Iraq continues to loom.

It's quite possible a winner won't be chosen right away. Unless one of the candidates breaks away from the pack and pulls more than 50 percent of the vote in Tuesday's election, the race will be decided by a runoff on July 17.

The race's odds-on favorite is former state Sen. Jim Whitehead, a small businessman from Evans, just outside Augusta, who has lined up the support of much of the Republican establishment.

The blunt-spoken Norwood — who died in February after battling cancer and lung disease — is still beloved in the district he represented since 1994. Whitehead has won the critical endorsement of his widow, Gloria.