As a man who considers himself a centrist, Congressman Jim Marshall (D-Macon) draws support and ire from both sides of the aisle, and both parties are fighting hard for his seat.
Republicans have targeted the seat as one to take as they seek to reclaim a majority in the house, while Marshall is actively separating himself from the Democratic leadership in an effort to retain the conservative vote he’s gathered in prior elections.
Marshall prides himself on his independent voting record and said during a recent debate in Atlanta that he would not vote for Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi again. Though he voted for her previously, Marshall said during the debate he does not support her, and he is running campaign ads separating himself from the liberal Pelosi.
Marshall’s spokesman, Doug Moore, said Thursday that Marshall believes there is a realistic chance that a Democratic House will vote for a more centric speaker if it retains the majority this time around."A speaker like Nancy Pelosi from San Francisco can't lean in the middle because her constituents are too far to the left. Historically, the best speaker will take an approach more in tune with the rest of the country. The majority of the country is independent and (doesn't) care about that party label," Moore said.
The strategy of renouncing Pelosi is catching on with other U.S. Democratic representatives, who are seeking to hold off strong Republican contenders, according to recent media reports.
Chris Grant, a political science professor at Mercer University in Marshall's hometown of Macon, said the rural, majority white Eighth Congressional District has historically been a conservative stronghold. The district contains portions of 21 counties in central and southern Georgia. Presidential candidates John McCain and George Bush both garnered more than 60 percent of the vote in the district, which has also produced Republican leaders Gov. Sonny Perdue and Sen. Saxby Chambliss.
"Pelosi is never going to be popular with the majority of the voters in the Eighth, so for Marshall, engaging in open antagonism with Speaker Pelosi is a good local political move, since it distances himself from her, while probably placing him at some risk in D.C., where he might lose his assignment on Armed Services if Pelosi remains Speaker in the next Congress," Grant wrote in a Thursday e-mail.
"Marshall is probably counting that if he was able to survive re-election, Pelosi may either be vulnerable to a challenge in the speaker's race, unlikely, or that all will be forgiven since any Democratic win trumps any Republican win in the speaker's mind."
In a recent interview on PBS' "NewsHour", Pelosi supported the defectors position, saying they know their districts and "I just want them to win."
Grant said Republican challenger Austin Scott presents a stiff challenge for Marshall; Pete Sessions, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee visited Scott in Covington recently and contributed $5,000 to the campaign because he believed Scott would win.
"It is a Republican district in a Republican year, but Marshall has pulled it out before," Grant said. "Austin Scott comes from the southern part of the District, unlike previous opponents, and is a more experienced challenger than Marshall has faced in the past, with the exception of Mac Collins (in 2006). (Scott) is young and attractive and a good campaigner. Marshall is known to be a hard worker and very intelligent."
The race will come down to Republican voters in Houston County, who are tied to the Robins Air Force Base, one of the district's largest employers, Grant said.
"If they stay with Marshall, he wins. If they decide that the national Democratic agenda does not serve them well, Marshall loses," he said.
Local voters will play an important role as well, given Newton County's significant population, although the district does not contain the northern portion of Newton County. However, they're also split, and not necessarily along party lines.
Tea Party organizer Luke Knight said he respects Marshall's voting record and doesn't believe he votes overwhelmingly liberal.
However, he doesn't want to give the Democrats another chance to run the house. Ricky Blevins on the other hand said he supports Marshall.
"I generally vote Republican, but after some research and correspondence with Congressman Jim Marshall, I found him to be responsive to his constituents and mostly conservative in his ideology," Blevins said on The Covington News' Facebook site.
In addition, the National Rifle Association and U.S. Chamber of Commerce, two traditionally conservative organizations, have endorsed Marshall. Moore said the endorsements show that Marshall's philosophies often dovetail with Republican economic agendas.
State Democratic official Sarah Todd said she doesn't believe that Marshall has a lot of Democratic support in the county, but is often viewed as the lesser of two evils.
"You won't have anyone in this county making phone calls for him," Todd said.
To watch the full debate between Marshall and Scott, hosted by the Atlanta Press Club, see atlantapressclub.org/debates.