Georgia Dems Dream of Taking Control of Congressional Delegation

Democrats are expected to take control of Georgia's congressional delegation this fall for the first time since the 1994 Republican revolution. But don't confuse this bunch with the conservative Southern Democrats who ruled through the 1980s.

The seven Democrats likely to win in November have more in common with the national Democratic party, and that could increase Georgia's clout in Washington — especially if Democrats can retake control of the House.

Traditional Southern Democrats voted against their Northern colleagues on social issues and rejected the influence of labor. That rebellious streak left Southern Democrats short-handed when it came to crucial committee assignments.

The Democrats favored this year in seven of Georgia's thirteen congressional districts don't fit that mold.

"This new delegation will very much be in the mainstream of the Democratic party,'' said University of Georgia political scientist Charles Bullock. "Potentially they could be a more powerful delegation than you saw a generation ago, when the Southern Democrats had the seniority but not as much power.''

The change comes from a redistricting plan that gave Democrats a distinct edge in this fall's elections. Georgia now is represented by eight Republicans and three Democrats. With two additional seats because of population growth, Georgia's projected delegation this fall is seven Democrats and six Republicans.

Five of those Democrats picked to win are black, which would give Georgia the nation's largest black delegation.

Democrats who control the Georgia Legislature were frank last summer on their plans to help the national party. The new map attempts to turn back the clock on Republican gains of the 1990s.

Republicans now hold a majority 223 of the 435 U.S. House seats. Democrats would need to win six new seats and retain the one vacated by James A. Traficant last month to take control.

If Georgia Democrats can help their party take control of the House, the national party the state for its gains. Even if the Democrats fail to take the House, these Georgia Democrats can expect a better relationship with national Democratic leaders than their predecessors.

David Scott sees himself as one of the Democrats who will lead the revival. A black businessman who spent years in the state Senate, Scott won the Democratic primary last week in a district south of Atlanta and is heavily favored to win in November.

"This delegation is going to represent Georgia in a very moderate way,'' said Scott, who added that two incumbents considered extreme — Democratic Rep. Cynthia McKinney and Republican Rep. Bob Barr — were defeated in the primaries.

"We have an excellent opportunity to move quickly into leadership positions because of our moderate Southern stance,'' he said.

The chairman of the state Democratic party, Calvin Smyre, said that if his party succeeds in picking up four additional seats in a single election, Georgia will become "a major player'' in national politics.

"Everyone remembers the last presidential election when Georgia was bypassed completely on both sides,'' Smyre said. "I think from here on out Georgia won't be bypassed by anyone with presidential aspirations. We're not the Republican stronghold they think we are.''

And the Democrats winning elections in Georgia aren't as conservative as they used to be, said Emory University professor Merle Black.

"The conservatives have left and so the Democrats left look a lot more like northern Democrats. If they can produce a few convincing victories with these new Democrats, you're going to see a lot of people in the national party sit up and notice.''