Austin Scott has issued some fightin' words to his opponent, U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall (D-Ga.), in the race for Georgia's 8th Congressional District.
Scott, a Republican, told supporters in an e-mail that Marshall "votes liberal ... and we aren't fooled."
"It's one of the worst things you can say about a candidate in Georgia," said University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock.
Particularly in the central part of the state, where Marshall has won races by razor-thin margins. In 2006, for example, Marshall won by 1 percent of all ballots cast. Bullock expects another close race this year that could help shape the balance of power between Democrats and Republicans in Congress.
"It should be our most interesting race in Georgia," Bullock said.
The 8th District runs along a stretch of I-75 in Middle Georgia that includes Macon, Warner Robins, Dublin and Tifton. Republicans want this seat. Badly. In 2004, Vice President Dick Cheney came to Georgia to help raise money for Marshall's opponent, Calder Clay. Two years later, President George W. Bush made a campaign stop in the area to aid Marshall's opponent, Mac Collins. It's often one of the most contested congressional seats in the nation.
Marshall, first voted into office in 2002, has been able to hold on to the seat with a coalition of moderate white voters and strong support among black voters, who make up about 30 percent of the district's registered voters, Bullock said. Republicans are eager to take control of Congress, believing they can seize upon voter anger about the economy, immigration and health care legislation. Marshall, a four-term congressman, voted against the federal health care legislation earlier this year. He supported giving the Bush administration authority to invade Iraq. Marshall describes himself on his congressional Web site as one of the "few centrists in Congress."
Scott told PolitiFact Georgia he's right in calling out Marshall's voting record. Scott said Marshall "repeatedly voted for San Francisco liberal" House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and voted for bailouts for Wall Street.
"In Middle Georgia, that's what we call liberal," Scott said in an e-mail.
Marshall voted in October 2008 for the $700 billion financial bailout plan, but he voted against a bailout plan for the auto industry in December 2008 and a $410 billion spending plan in February. The House of Representatives elected Pelosi its speaker at the beginning of 2007 and 2009 in what are largely procedural votes along party lines. Marshall voted for Pelosi, along with fellow Democrats, said his spokesman, Douglas Moore.
So does Marshall vote liberal?
"Only if you are looking at it from the far right," Bullock said.
In 2009, Marshall was the 250th-most-liberal member out of the 431 House of Representatives members rated by the National Journal, which compiles an annual ranking of Congress. The rankings are based on House members' voting histories. He was the fifth-most-conservative House Democrat last year, the Journal concluded. In 2008, Marshall was the 234th-most-liberal member of the 428 House members it rated that year, the Journal found. He was the second-most-conservative Democrat that year, the Journal concluded. In 2007, Marshall was rated by the National Journal as the most conservative voting Democrat in the House.
Marshall voted with Democratic colleagues about 89 percent of the time during the current Congress, according to a Washington Post analysis. That is slightly below the 92.3 percent average of most Democrats, according to the Post. Using his voting record, the Web site On the Issues rated Marshall as a "conservative-leaning populist." Two groups well-regarded by conservatives, the National Rifle Association and the Family Research Council, gave Marshall high marks based on his voting record. Some left-leaning groups have also given Marshall high marks for his positions on issues important to them. The NAACP last year gave Marshall an 80 rating on a scale of 100, according to Project Vote Smart. The AFL-CIO gave him a 71 score on a scale of 100, Project Vote Smart said.
"[Marshall] has one of the most conservative Democratic voting records in Congress," Bullock said. "But most Republicans are further right. Would Austin Scott be more conservative than Jim Marshall? Absolutely!"
Tom Crawford, who has covered Georgia politics for more than three decades, disagreed. Crawford said on his Georgia Report blog that Marshall is "more conservative than Scott on some issues."
Bullock believes the key for Scott will be whether he can convince voters the Marshall is a liberal. The professor remembers when Republicans labeled Democrat Zell Miller, a former U.S. senator and Georgia governor, a liberal. Miller, you may remember, endorsed George W. Bush for president in 2004 and gave the keynote address at that year's Republican National Convention.
So back to the question as to whether Marshall votes liberal?
Marshall is largely rated in the middle by most political observers, based on his voting record. Some conservatives believe he's too far to the left. So where does that leave Marshall? We believe in the middle. The independent research shows Marshall votes more "conservative" than nearly every Democrat but more "liberal" than nearly every Republican. Therefore, we rate Scott's claim about Marshall as Barely True.
Editor's note: This statement was rated Barely True when it was published. On July 27, 2011, we changed the name for the rating to Mostly False.