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In Georgia primary, voters weigh candidates' baggage

ATLANTA -- Two of the most polarizing figures in Georgia politics go before the voters in primary elections today: former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed and Cynthia McKinney, the firebrand congresswoman who scuffled recently with a Capitol Hill police officer.

Reed, the former head of Georgia's Republican Party, is running for the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor in his first bid for elective office. His campaign has been bedeviled by his ties to disgraced Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

And far across the political aisle is McKinney, a Democrat seeking a seventh term. Her scuffle seems to have only bolstered her standing with core supporters.

Neighboring Alabama is holding a runoff today, with George Wallace Jr. seeking the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor.

In Georgia, voters also will decide which Democrat will take on Republican Governor Sonny Perdue in November. Secretary of State Cathy Cox and Lieutenant Governor Mark Taylor have both spent millions filling the airwaves with attack ads in their bruising primary race.

A win by Cox would make her the first woman in Georgia to receive a major-party nomination for governor. '

Perdue, Georgia's first Republican governor since Reconstruction, has only token opposition in the primary and has at least $8 million more in the bank than his rivals.

Reed had been expected to coast to victory as lieutenant governor, a largely ceremonial post that is viewed as a steppingstone to the governor's mansion. But he is running neck-and-neck with Casey Cagle, a little-known state lawmaker who has used every opportunity to link Reed to the Abramoff scandal.

Reed has not been charged with any wrongdoing and has said repeatedly that he regrets the lobbying work he did with Abramoff.

McKinney, the first black woman elected to Congress from Georgia, has been a controversial figure during her 12 years in Washington. She has said the Bush administration had advance knowledge of the Sept. 11 attacks but kept quiet to allow friends to profit from the bloodshed.

But facing possible criminal charges for striking a police officer in March, McKinney was forced to apologize on the floor of the House. She has bounced back apparently stronger than ever in her largely black district in suburban Atlanta, where many view her as a fighter.

Her main challenger is Hank Johnson Jr., a former DeKalb County commissioner. If she wins the primary as expected, she is all but assured reelection in November because her district is predominantly Democrat.

Some of the highest election-year drama in Georgia has occurred not on the campaign trail but in courtrooms, where a pair of judges have blocked a new state law requiring voters to show a government-issued photo ID at the polls. Supporters of the law say it is needed to prevent fraud.

Critics challenged the law in federal and state court, saying poor people, the elderly, and minorities are unlikely to have driver's licenses or other picture IDs.

In Alabama, Wallace, whose father was governor and a presidential candidate in the 1960s and '70s, carries the state's most famous political name, but he is battling a better-funded newcomer, Luther Strange, who is backed by business interests.

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