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Georgia Rep. McKinney Loses Democratic Runoff

Analysts attributed her defeat to fading support after a scuffle with police. Some see it as a sign of shifting priorities among black voters.

August 09, 2006|Jenny Jarvie | Times Staff Writer

DECATUR, Ga. — Rep. Cynthia A. McKinney, the Georgia Democrat renowned for her strident rhetoric as well as her recent scuffle with a Capitol Police officer, lost a runoff election Tuesday.

McKinney, 51, won 41% of the vote, trailing far behind challenger Hank Johnson, a moderate and soft-spoken attorney, in the Democratic runoff in Georgia's 4th Congressional District.

Johnson, who is favored to win against the Republican candidate, Catherine Davis, in the November general election, promised to bring respectability to the office.

"It's clear that most people have a low opinion of the work of our Congress, that people want to see things done a little differently," Johnson, 51, told his supporters. "I pledge to you I'm going to work with each and every person to work for solutions. I'm here to serve you and make you proud."

Though McKinney was quick to blame Republican crossover voters for her defeat, most political analysts attributed it to a lapse in Democratic support after her much-publicized March altercation with the police officer.

Throughout the campaign, Johnson's message was simple: "Replace McKinney."

Elected in 1992 as Georgia's first African American congresswoman, McKinney has long been an outspoken critic of the Bush administration. In recent years, she has called the Iraq war illegal, questioned U.S. support for Israel and suggested that Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff should be charged with negligent homicide for Hurricane Katrina deaths.

In March, McKinney allegedly struck a Capitol Police officer with her cellphone after he stopped her as she bypassed a security checkpoint. Although a grand jury in Washington declined to indict her, McKinney's critics claimed she no longer had the political clout to represent her constituents in Washington.

Still, McKinney had been expected to win last month's primary election in the heavily Democratic area -- until she was forced into a runoff after a large number of voters in the northern, predominantly white areas of her suburban Atlanta district voted against her.

On Tuesday, Johnson said he had won more than 50% of the votes in DeKalb County, McKinney's traditional stronghold, which is home to a growing number of professional, middle-class blacks.

Some political analysts saw McKinney's defeat as a sign that African American voters in Georgia were becoming less enamored with bold civil rights-era rhetoric and instead favored a new breed of moderate politicians.

"The Georgia delegation now consists almost entirely of Republicans and modest Democrats," said William Boone, a political science professor at Clark Atlanta University, who cited one exception: Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), the civil rights veteran.

Although state Rep. Tyrone Brooks, president of the Georgia Assn. of Black Elected Officials and a longtime McKinney supporter, attributed her defeat to Republican crossover voters, he also blamed African Americans in DeKalb for not voting.

"They have now lost a very, very courageous voice in Congress," he said.

This was not the first upset in McKinney's congressional career. In 2002, McKinney was defeated by Denise L. Majette, a moderate African American state judge, after suggesting in a radio interview that President Bush might have had prior knowledge of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. She then won back her seat in 2004, after Majette decided to run for the U.S. Senate.

Before her defeat, McKinney spoke out against alleged voting irregularities, updating her campaign's website throughout the day with postings about voting problems such as malfunctioning electronic voting machines, insufficient signposting to a polling location and police harassment of her supporters.

After examining complaints from the McKinney campaign, Linda Lattimore, DeKalb County's director of voting registration and elections, said poll officers concluded that there was no evidence of voting irregularities.

After such a firm defeat, many political analysts doubted that McKinney would ever return to Capitol Hill -- although most expect she will continue to drum the same themes from the political sidelines.

"Win or lose, she's not out of politics," Boone said.

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