Though his opponent is a moderate Democrat and a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, all signs point to Rep. John Linder (R-GA) comfortably coasting to his ninth term representing the 7th district in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Doug Heckman, a retired U.S. Army colonel who worked with the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan and helped to train the Iraqi Army while stationed in Baghdad, has struggled to get serious consideration from voters in what is a reliably Republican district that includes the northern third of Newton County.
Linder leads Heckman by a large margin in fundraising – $518,000 to $170,000, according to Opensecrets.org– though neither campaign has raised the kind of funds of a truly competitive race, such as the one in the 8th district between Jim Marshall and Rick Goddard
Linder, who by profession is a dentist, joined his fellow House Republican delegates from Georgia in voting down the $700 billion economic bailout both times it came up for a vote in the House.
"I believe that markets are designed to punish bad behavior and to reward good behavior," said Linder of his reasoning in voting against the bailout. "Any government intervention merely softens the blow to bad behavior. Ultimately, we’re going to have to come to terms with this and government intrusion only makes it worse."
Heckman for his part said he would have voted for the bailout but not happily.
"The economy was on the ground bleeding to death. I would have voted for it but I would have held my nose while doing it," said Heckman, who has worked as the managing director of multi-billion dollar asset management firms.
Linder, a huge proponent of the FairTax, said he thinks the government can improve the economy without interfering in it by reducing the tax burden on corporations with assets oversees to induce them to bring their operations back to the United States. He also thinks the government should not pick and choose "winners and losers" such as the decision to rescue Bear Stearns but to let Lehman Brothers fail.
Heckman said he would support government intervention into the housing market to help homeowners in danger of losing their homes by refinancing their mortgages. He also supports the banning of all earmarks to cut down on federal spending and the introduction of a constitutional amendment requiring Congress to balance its budget every year, just as Georgia does, except in the event of a national crisis or war.
"We have been on a spending binge for years now and that includes both Republicans and Democrats," said Heckman adding that tax policy and the IRS need to be simplified. "We need to lower the tax burden overall. But we’ve got to simplify the tax code."
In addition to improving the economy, Linder said he sees reforming federal tax policy and entitlement spending as the most pressing issue facing the nation.
"If we continue to tax at the current percentage of GDP and if we continue our discretionary spending at the same level, in 42 years the entire revenue stream will not be sufficient to pay the [federal] debt."
After fixing the economy, Heckman named achieving true energy independence as the country’s chief challenge. If elected he said he would work on the passage of an energy independence plan "with more drilling, conservation education and a massive alternative energy development program that is public and private."
"It’s a national security plan," said Heckman of the need for national independence from foreign oil. "We need to have a massive plan akin to NASA in the 60s to wean ourselves off of foreign oil. We are just sending billions and billions overseas and we have to stop that. Clearly the future is in alternative energy and the faster we recognize that, the better off we’re going to be."
Both candidates named the threat of terrorism as a national security issue that the government should continue to address.
"I am a combat veteran of both Afghanistan and Iraq and I think we need to push the Iraqis faster into their own future and we need to shift resources over to Afghanistan," Heckman said.
Linder touted his years in Washington, where he has achieved a certain level of incumbent status, as reason voters should reelect him.
"I think I’ve served them well. I think they appreciate that. I’ve kept them in touch on a regular basis with what I do," Linder said. "I think I have a long track record of being a public servant. I don’t know anything about Doug Heckman."
Heckman said the fact that he is new to Washington is actually an asset.
"Washington is a mess and it’s a mess because of the people that are up there," he said. "I truly believe that while some ideology is important, a bi-partisan attitude is more important. My opponent is a fringe Republican and I want to be a conservative Democrat, which is a moderate overall."
If he loses the election, Heckman said he does not see himself running again due to the high costs associated with launching a national campaign if as a newcomer.
"I’ve sacrificed a lot here. I quit my job to be a full-time candidate," he said. "It’s unfortunate that our election system has become so expensive."