Incumbents feeling pressure

Congressman Lynn Westmoreland has just finished his closing statement during a campaign forum Thursday morning in Columbus, when Sen. Saxby Chambliss reached over and offered an understanding pat on the shoulder.

It's a tough time for Republicans and incumbents — and Westmoreland and Chambliss are both.

"There is a lot of anxiety out there," Chambliss said after the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce forum at the Convention & Trade Center.

Chambliss, a one-term U.S. senator, is facing a challenge from Democrat Jim Martin, who according to recent polls has been closing the race. Martin, a 35-year veteran of Georgia politics, senses the charged atmosphere.

"Something's going on out there," Martin said. "I believe it is the democratic system and the people are taking control."

The Nov. 4 election is being held amid a financial crisis that has the citizens concerned and engaged in the political process, Martin said.

"I am disgusted with the Bush administration and our economy and the crisis it has caused," Martin said.

Chambliss admits his race has tightened less than two weeks from the General Election because of the issues in the stock market and the overall economy. He supported the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street.

"There is a whole other silent side to this — the credit side," Chambliss said. "The banks have to borrow from other banks and the feds to make loans to small business and car loans. I was not going to stick my head in the sand and allow the credit market to freeze up. I just wasn't going to let that happen."

Martin would not say how he would have voted on the bailout bill and drew sharp criticism from Chambliss for not directly answering the question. Martin was critical of the people who caused the problem.

"The mismanagement and, frankly, the criminal activity along with that is outrageous and people are saying that," Martin said.

Martin pointed out that Georgia has lost 80,000 jobs this year.

"Rebuilding our economy from the top down makes no sense," Martin said. "It needs to be rebuilt from the bottom up."

Westmoreland, a two-term congressman from Coweta County, has been involved in politics on the state and national level for nearly two decades. The Third Congressional district that Westmoreland represents includes a significant chunk of North Columbus.

"It's a different type of political environment than I have ever been in," Westmoreland said. "It is a crazy environment."

Camp said it is an environment that calls for a new kind of leadership.

"Now, more than ever we need leadership," Camp said. "We face fundamental challenges."

Westmoreland twice voted against the economic bailout bill that passed this month. U.S. Rep., Sanford Bishop, an Democratic eight-term congressman who represents a Southwest Georgia district that includes most of South Columbus, is facing Republican challenger Lee Ferrell of Albany.

Bishop explained his vote for the economic bailout bill.

"Our economy is on life support," Bishop said. "Had we not passed that bill, it would have been tantamont to pulling the plug."

Ferrell, a medically discharged veteran, had a disjointed answer to how he would have voted. "What are they going to do, make me go live with my sister? Been there; done that," he responded.