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Posted: January 3, 2009 4:49 p.m.

The winners and losers of 2008

In any election year there will be roughly equal groups of winners and losers. Here are the Georgia political figures who can feel good (or bad) about their wins and losses of the past year.

Winner: Saxby Chambliss.

It’s incredible that a politician who did so much to alienate his supporters could still win reelection, but Chambliss did. During the 18 months prior to the 2008 general election, Chambliss appeared to go out of his way to annoy GOP voters: he was booed at the state Republican convention for his immigration reform bill, criticized for sponsoring an expensive farm subsidy bill, attacked on talk radio for negotiating with Democrats on an energy bill and denounced for voting to spend $700 billion on the Wall Street bailout.

Those positions pushed Chambliss dangerously close to defeat in the general election — the mere fact that he was forced into a runoff against a poorly financed Democrat has to be a major embarrassment. But Chambliss’ supporters came home in the runoff and enabled him to coast to victory.

Winner: the Georgia Republican Party.

A Democratic wave in other states swept Barack Obama into the presidency and gave the party firmer control of Congress. Georgia’s GOP, however, was able to keep the state’s electoral votes in John McCain’s column and retain a hammerlock on the General Assembly. The party still looks like the best bet for victory in the 2010 governor’s race.

Loser: the Georgia Democratic Party.

You would be hard-pressed to name a state political organization that squandered a bigger opportunity than local Democrats did in 2008. They could have exploited the surge of black voters energized by Obama to win back some seats in the Legislature, but Democrats failed to even put candidates on the ballot in several competitive districts.

Loser: Gov. Sonny Perdue.

Perdue’s supporters hoped he would be picked as McCain’s vice presidential running mate or at least get an appointment to a McCain cabinet — but neither of those prospects worked out. He had also been seen as a candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2010, but that went by the wayside when Johnny Isakson decided to run for another term.

After a reelection campaign in 2006 where he boasted of saving Georgia from a $600 million budget deficit, Perdue was forced to pull $600 million out of the state’s reserve fund in 2008 to erase a similar deficit. Under the Perdue administration, Georgia’s schools also continued to rank in the bottom 10 percent while the state’s highways are among the most congested in the nation. With a record like that, why would he even want to serve out his last two years as governor?

Winner: Glenn Richardson.

Even with a well-publicized divorce, shouting matches with Perdue and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, and the collapse of his tax reform plan, Richardson was still able to fight off a challenge for the House speaker’s position from Rep. David Ralston. After all the huffing and puffing was over, House Republicans voted 75-25 to give Richardson another two-year term as speaker.

Winner: Johnny Isakson.

Georgia’s senior senator, who had been mulling the 2010 race for governor, announced this year he’ll just run for another Senate term instead. By not getting into a governor’s race he probably would have won, Isakson made sure he won’t have to spend four years dealing with legislative temper tantrums over budget and tax issues. That’s a win right there.

Loser: Jim Martin.

Martin did what many thought was impossible by pushing heavily favored Saxby Chambliss into a runoff election for the U.S. Senate. In the runoff, however, Martin performed about as poorly as he did in his 2006 race for lieutenant governor, drawing less than 43 percent of the vote. Even in losing, though, Martin still earned the gratitude of Democrats both in Georgia and Washington. They will be eternally grateful that he at least prevented Vernon Jones from winning the Democratic primary.

He could have been a winner: Roy Barnes.

If the former governor had been the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate this year instead of Martin, Barnes might well have knocked off Chambliss. Barnes is also seen as the party’s best hope for winning back the governor’s office in 2010. But will Roy run? He’s been asked the question but he won’t commit to a statewide race.

Tom Crawford is the editor of Capitol Impact’s Georgia Report, an Internet news service at www.gareport.com that covers government and politics in Georgia. He can be reached at tcrawford@capitolimpact.net .

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