Last night, Jim Martin won his primary run-off against Vernon Jones for the right to be the Democratic challenger to Georgia incumbent Saxby Chambliss. Although Jones had received the plurality of votes in the initial primary vote on July 15th, this outcome is not a terrible surprise. Martin had received the endorsements of the third- and fourth-place candidates in the race, and more generally had been able to consolidate the white vote.
Is Martin a better candidate than Jones? Yes — but Democrats ought not to be getting too excited. The most recent Rasmussen poll had shown Martin trailing Saxby Chambliss by 11 points, as opposed to Jones’s 30-point deficit. Other polling from Strategic Vision had not had the race that tight, but that poll was somewhat dated, before Martin had really had the chance to introduce himself to the voters.
Still, the fundamentals work against him. Chambliss is fairly popular, and Georgia remains a red state. Martin’s fundraising — a little bit more than a million dollars so far — is not bad for a challenger, but is no match for Saxby’s numbers, and one wonders how much cash Martin has left on hand after what was a 10-round primary fight. Martin had served in the Georgia House of Representatives for 18 years, but that is relatively low-profile work. His issue positions, though well presented, are more or less in the mainstream of the Democratic Party, and it remains fairly hard for a non-Blue Dog Democrat to win in the South.
This is not to disparage Martin, who has run a likable, professional campaign and has some upside as a candidate. But, it’s awfully hard to sell that upside when you’re left with only a couple of months to do it. There is a give-and-take in setting a primary date — if you hold it too early, voters may not be tuned in enough to make an informed choice. But clearly, it can’t help a party when it doesn’t know its nominee until August.