McKinney's Exit Doesn't Worry the Democrats

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For the coming midterm elections, Democrats can ink, not pencil in, newcomer Hank Johnson for the 4th Congressional district win in November, retaining the seat for Democrats as they fight to gain control of the House. Johnson defeated embattled incumbent Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney in a runoff Tuesday night in a Georgia district that has been a historical lock for Democrats. And it's even more of a sure thing now that the more moderate Johnson will be the candidate this fall.

"I think Hank Johnson will cruise to a very easy win here," says Emory University political science professor Alan Abramowitz. The district is 57% black, and encompasses liberal DeKalb County, where Emory University is located. With a median family income of $52,552, it is one of the most affluent African-American counties in the nation. The district supported John Kerry in 2004 with 72% of its vote.

Johnson picked up the vast majority of white and more conservative voters, adding to the longtime McKinney supporters who abandoned her over the White House security scuffle and a history of erratic behavior. The Democratic primary win has also historically meant victory in November.

The G.O.P. has put up arguably less than token opposition to Johnson, who will face repeat candidate Catherine Davis. It was Davis whom McKinney beat in her last win for the 4th District in 2004, getting 64% of the general election vote then. But her overall erosion was showing, as McKinney squeaked by in that primary with 51% of the vote before winning big in the general election. "Davis is not considered a serious challenger," says Abramowitz. "She's a nice, sincere person. She is African-American but very conservative."

Johnson, 51, a former DeKalb county commissioner and longtime magistrate judge, "is a much more mainstream black politician who will be in the mold of others in the state like John Lewis. He'll fit right in with them," he says.

Johnson ran on a simple platform of ousting McKinney more than on the issues, and surprised her by getting 44% of the primary ballots to force the runoff. So big was the anti-McKinney sentiment that turnout Tuesday was actually larger than in the primary.

McKinney ends a political career that began in 1992 when she was then the first African-American woman to represent Georgia in Congress. Her militant stances and attacks on President Bush, even to the point of accusing him of prior knowledge of the 9/11 plot, played well in the district for a while, but "she's been a very controversial figure in the district for a long time," says Abramowitz. "I think the run-in with the Capitol policeman added fuel to the fire based on her reaction as being a victim of racism."

Her media savvy and people skills deteriorated also over time, due in equal parts to hubris with voters and her increasing distate for the G.O.P.'s control of Washington. But had she found a way to beat Johnson, even she would have held this seat for Democrats in November.