Against Long Odds: Citizens Who Challenge Congressional Incumbents

By James L. Merriner; Thomas P. Senter | Go to book overview
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7
GEORGIA
MICHAEL COLES (D) v. REPRESENTATIVE NEWT GINGRICH (R) AND SENATOR PAUL COVERDELL (R)

"He's just a guy," Michael Coles shrugged. Newt Gingrich, just a guy? The same Newt Gingrich who was the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and was regarded--at least in his own mind--as a historical figure of world importance? One thing about political novices such as Coles, they can be fearless.

Coles perceived that Gingrich, like many incumbents, was less entrenched than he appeared at first glance. Yet he was more entrenched than he appeared at a second glance. In the end, the Speaker defeated Coles in 1996 after his PAC contributions exceeded his Democratic challenger's by a ten to one margin, and he falsely branded Coles as a liberal.

Georgia's Sixth Congressional District race that year illustrated the hollowness of party labels. Coles, as a Democrat, was a better personification of Republican bootstrap, free-enterprise values than was Gingrich. Indeed, in many other districts in the country, Gingrich might have tried to recruit Coles to run for Congress as a self-made, moderate GOP businessman.

"I've seen a zillion guys like Newt in the private sector," Coles said in the summer of 1996. "They're flash-in-the-pan guys."

Coles's life story explains why Gingrich did not intimidate him. His mother managed to escape from Poland and the Nazi death camps of

-67-

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