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GOP turnout likely key in McKinney's race

Rep. Cynthia McKinney had expected an easy return to Congress this year, but instead faced a runoff Tuesday and the real chance of being upset by a fellow Democrat for the second time in three primary elections.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Rep. Cynthia McKinney had expected an easy return to Congress this year, but instead faces a runoff Tuesday and the real chance of being upset by a fellow Democrat for the second time in three primary elections.

While many political observers cite McKinney's scuffle with a U.S. Capitol Police officer in March for energizing the campaign of her runoff opponent, attorney Hank Johnson, she blamed Republicans for her failure to get enough primary votes to avoid a runoff.

Trying to rally Democrats, McKinney predicted that Republicans would come out in droves Tuesday like they did in 2002 to vote against her, as part of what she referred to during the campaign's final televised debate Saturday as the ABC - Anybody But Cynthia - movement.

In Georgia, a registered voter can choose either a Democratic or Republican ballot in the primary, and they must select that same ballot in a runoff.

McKinney has characterized Johnson as a Democrat awash in Republican money and votes. Four years ago, McKinney was ousted after a decade in Congress by political newcomer and fellow Democrat Denise Majette, who was backed by an organized, well-funded Republican effort. (McKinney returned to Congress in 2004 after Majette left the seat to run for the Senate.)

Congressional history
McKinney is the first black woman elected to Congress from Georgia and is seeking her seventh term in Congress. Johnson, a former DeKalb County commissioner who is also black, came within 1,700 votes of McKinney in last month's three-candidate primary.

McKinney's runoff was the hottest race in Georgia by far Tuesday. The state's highest voter turnout was expected to be in McKinney's district, just east of Atlanta. Early voting numbers showed that her district accounted for more than one out of every eight voters who cast ballots last week, according to the Secretary of State's Office, which oversees state elections.

Of the roughly 30,000 early voters, 3,997 were in McKinney's district, which includes most of DeKalb County, about half of Rockdale County and a small section of Gwinnett County.

DeKalb County was the only "hot spot" in runoff elections held in Georgia, with "light to moderate" voter turnout elsewhere as of late Tuesday morning, said Ashley Holt, spokeswoman for the Secretary of State's office.

There are 13 congressional districts in Georgia, each representing roughly the same number of people, so McKinney's district clearly saw more than its share of early voters.

Campaign turnaround
Before the primary, McKinney did little campaigning - not even appearing on two televised debates in the days leading up to that election. However, in the three weeks since, McKinney has hit radio and television airwaves, called a rare news conference and appeared in two televised debates with Johnson.

She has sold herself as the "truth-to-power" candidate who has been the one of the most outspoken critics of President Bush since she was among the first to raise questions about the administration's advance knowledge of the Sept. 11 attacks. Since returning to office, she has continued to criticize the war in Iraq and also condemn the government's response to Hurricane Katrina.

"I stand in stark contrast to the Republican majority and I am proud of that," McKinney during Saturday's debate.

GOP turnout factor
How much of a factor Republicans might be in Tuesday's election will be key. Unlike the organized Republican strategy that led to her ouster four years ago, the party has not officially mobilized against her this year, focused instead on its own high-profile statewide races.

Still, in McKinney's district, only about 8,900 voters selected a Republican ballot in July - leaving 278,384 registered voters eligible to participate in the runoff.

Nearly 62,000 ballots were cast in the Democratic primary. Anyone who voted in the Democratic or Republican primary must vote in that same primary in the runoff. Those who did not vote in the primary may select either ballot for the runoff.

McKinney's widely publicized March scuffle with a Capitol Hill policeman - which Johnson hammered on in the days leading up to the runoff - could also influence voters. For months, she has downplayed the incident, which occurred after the officer failed to recognize her, and has repeatedly stressed that a grand jury failed to indict her.