Majette vs. McKinney: The Rematch 

Part deux or part duh?

Even in a relatively brief phone conversation, one can tell Denise Majette has changed.

When she ran in 2002 for the 4th District Congressional seat held by the brash and outspoken Cynthia McKinney, Majette came across as one of those perfectly polite people who are little more than an empty suit.

Majette now speaks forcefully. She is decisive without sounding shrill. And she's compiled a solid record -- including a vote against funding military operations in Iraq -- that suggests there is more to her than first impressions revealed.

That spells trouble for McKinney, who has filed with the Federal Elections Commission to run again in the DeKalb County district and has established a slick campaign website. Majette hasn't given her much room for attack.

In late February, the nonpartisan magazine National Journal released its annual scorecard, which ranks legislators along the liberal to conservative spectrum by analyzing a list of key Congressional votes. Majette didn't score as high on the liberal scale as U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta, who was the most liberal member of Congress (a 96.3 score), but she was the second most liberal in the Georgia delegation (81.8). And on the social issues the magazine ranked, Majette matched Lewis' 92 score.

That means McKinney will have a difficult time arguing that Majette is a Republican dressed in Democratic clothing, a charge oft-repeated during the bitter primary battle two years ago.

In an extremely partisan House, Majette managed to pass legislation that McKinney had tried for years to move but couldn't. The bill wasn't exactly controversial. If passed by the Senate, it will make the 535-acre Davidson-Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve in DeKalb County a national heritage area.

Republican U.S. Rep. John Linder, who represents the 7th District, co-sponsored Majette's bill just as he had co-sponsored McKinney's. The difference, Linder says, was one of personality.

"Ms. McKinney had a unique capacity for making enemies, and Mrs. Majette works with people," says the congressman. "She's a liberal Democrat, but she's easy to deal with, and she doesn't intentionally go out to offend people."

Linder says Majette got the bill to pass by doing simple things McKinney failed to do -- lobbying the Republican heads of the subcommittee and full committee through which the legislation had to pass.

Without mentioning her by name, the congresswoman places McKinney's reputation as a showhorse in sharp contrast to her own personality.

"There are significant partisan politics going on this year, but there are ways to work with people on both sides of the aisle," Majette says. "[Lewis] has been particularly inspiring to me, the way he can be so gracious in handling things without losing his spark or fire."

But has Majette been too conciliatory? Linder notes that she sometimes surprises her liberal colleagues by voting against the party line on economic issues. Maybe McKinney will be able to find enough questionable votes by Majette to launch an issue-based assault.

In the money game, however, Majette seems the clear winner. At the end of 2003, she had more than $340,000 cash on hand. McKinney, on the other hand, had just over $500 -- and more than $32,000 in debt.

Also troubling for McKinney is that she won't necessarily be able to count on environmental groups -- her main link to mainstream liberals -- who stood by her in 2002. The Sierra Club hasn't decided on a candidate yet, and the group is not sure it will endorse in the primary, according to Julie Stuart, head of the state chapter's political committee.

The big question for McKinney remains whether she will run a serious race.

Last time, McKinney rarely spoke to the press. And at some of the forums and debates in which she was supposed to square off with Majette, her staff would show and promise she'd arrive. Then she wouldn't. Her surrogates, meanwhile, would fire volleys at Majette for her.

History seems to be repeating itself. On Thursday, McKinney was supposed to attend an anti-PATRIOT Act forum at Georgia State University. She canceled.

Creative Loafing called her campaign headquarters last week seeking her comments for this story and an explanation as to why voters should choose her over Majette. A receptionist said that either McKinney or her office manager would be in touch. There was no response.

kevin.griffis@creativeloafing.com

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