The Magazine

THE RACE TO REPLACE NEWT

Feb 15, 1999, Vol. 4, No. 21 • By TUCKER CARLSON
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Jeffrey, a political science professor at Kennesaw State University outside Atlanta, is also running for the Sixth District seat, and like Isakson, she has personal ties to Gingrich. Indeed, Jeffrey was the first person Gingrich hired as the newly Republican Congress convened in 1995. For about a week, Jeffrey was the official House historian, until a White House staffer checked the clip files and discovered that she had once been accused of making anti-Semitic comments. Jeffrey defended herself by arguing -- persuasively, virtually everyone involved later agreed -- that her comments had been meant as a parody of liberal relativism, and were being grotesquely misread. [See: "The Vindication of Christina Jeffrey," THE WEEKLY STANDARD, Dec. 18, 1995.] Gingrich fired her anyway.


Jeffrey returned to her job at Kennesaw State, minus about $ 35,000 in moving costs and lost income. Months later, she sued Gingrich and several other members of Congress for more than $ 20 million, on grounds they had defamed her. (The suit is still pending, says Jeffrey, "though I don't know exactly where it is.") She also began something of a crusade against Gingrich, at one point publishing a newsletter called The Jeffrey Report that attacked the speaker for "moving left" and neglecting core conservative values.


Jeffrey's criticisms of Gingrich appear sincere enough, and she applies most of them to Isakson as well. Jeffrey's base of supporters consists mostly of committed social conservatives already active in politics: pro-lifers, gun owners, home schoolers. (Jeffrey herself teaches the youngest of her five children at home.) The Sixth District is famously conservative -- Cobb County's main artery is named the Larry McDonald Memorial Highway, after the late chairman of the John Birch Society who represented the area in Congress -- and twenty years ago such a coalition might have been enough to win an election. But the district is changing rapidly, becoming much more affluent and better educated -- "more like Winnetka every day," in the words of Jeffrey's husband, Robert. The farmers and white refugees from Atlanta who once made up the bulk of district-six voters cared about Christina Jeffrey's issues. Yuppies don't.


In spite of the odds, the Jeffrey campaign has received some national attention. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas recently made an appearance on Jeffrey's behalf. Former presidential candidate Alan Keyes is scheduled to arrive this week for a much-anticipated "pro-life rally and ice cream social." But the campaign still has very little money. With two weeks remaining until the election, Jeffrey had yet to run even a single radio ad. Barring a natural catastrophe on Election Day that keeps all but pro-lifers home, she is unlikely to win.


Which leaves Johnny Isakson, compassionate conservative, as heir to Newt Gingrich's seat in Congress. Despite what his critics charge, Isakson is not a liberal. He is a skilled political operator, well-informed about every issue that could possibly affect the state of Georgia, someone who naturally places an emphasis on, as he puts it, the governing side. If Isakson tends to answer questions without reference to his own beliefs -- ask him if he favors term limits, for example, and he'll explain that as a state legislator, he voted to allow the public to vote on term limits -- at least he has most of the Republican themes down. He has plenty of hostile things to say about taxes.


And he has impressive self-control. Consider his personal habits. Johnny Isakson looks like a smoker. He has the cough, the teeth, the leathery, W. H. Auden face. An aide confirms that Isakson does indeed smoke -- "His grandfather was a tobacco farmer," the aide explains -- but apart from his appearance, you'd never know it. A key feature of compassionate conservatism is not smoking in public, and Isakson pulls it off well.


Last week, Isakson made it through an entire fund-raising lunch with local developers, during which he spoke eloquently and at length about transportation policy (Should a monorail through Cobb County run in the center of the highway or beside it?), the consequences of saltwater long-line fishing, and the minutiae of literacy testing in state elementary schools, without having a cigarette. From the lunch, Isakson went directly to an interview with a reporter. Still no cigarette.