McCain returns to campaign trail

SMYRNA, Ga. -- Campaigning for the first time since his Election Day defeat, Sen. John McCain stumped here Thursday for a Republican senator facing a Dec. 2 runoff that could help Democrats move closer to a filibuster-proof 60-seat majority.

"I didn't think I would be back on the campaign trail quite this early," McCain told more than 1,500 supporters of Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga. "But there's a lot at stake here. I'm asking you to go back one more time."

The Arizona senator and unsuccessful Republican presidential nominee campaigned for Chambliss in this Atlanta suburb and Republican stronghold.

McCain defeated President-elect Barack Obama in Georgia. Emory University political scientist Merle Black said McCain's support could help Chambliss, 65, elected in 2002, defeat Democratic challenger Jim Martin, 63, a former state legislator.

Black said that one of Chambliss' objectives is to win huge margins in Cobb County and Gwinnett County, Atlanta suburbs where Republican margins have been shrinking.

The Martin campaign has requested an Obama visit but realizes the president-elect "is incredibly busy with a lot of decisions," said campaign spokesman Matt Canter. The Obama organization is leaving open 25 campaign offices in the state and deploying 100 field staffers from neighboring states to help Martin, Canter said.

The Martin campaign is trying to remind Georgia voters of McCain's condemnation of a television ad Chambliss aired in his successful 2002 race against then-senator Max Cleland, D-Ga. The ad questioned the national security expertise of Cleland, a triple-amputee Vietnam War veteran, and used images of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. At the time, McCain called the ad "worse than disgraceful. It's reprehensible."

McCain and Chambliss were joined Thursday by Sens. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and former Georgia senator Zell Miller. "Saxby could be the last man standing between a far-left liberal agenda sailing through the United States Senate," Miller said.

Chambliss won 49.8% of the vote Nov. 4, just under the 50% needed to avoid a runoff. Martin won 46.8%.