By BEN SMITH
John Stone, a Republican trying to unseat Democratic U.S. Rep. John Barrow of Savannah, calls the incumbent "a prime member of Congress responsible for $4-a-gallon gas."
GOP challenger Rick Goddard accuses Jim Marshall of Macon, the incumbent Democratic congressmen he's running against, of opposing legislation to drill off more of the U.S. coast in an effort to cut the nation's dependence on imported oil.
Barrow, who represents east Georgia's 12th Congressional District, and Marshall, central Georgia's 8th District congressman, say their opponents are distorting, even fabricating, their voting records. The incumbents insist they support increased offshore drilling with strict environmental controls.
Barrow called Stone's accusations "absolutely false and contradicted by the record."
The Savannah Democrat said Stone had used "no" votes on bills that had little or nothing to do with offshore drilling to falsely characterize him as an opponent of offshore drilling.
Doug Moore, Marshall's communications director, called Goddard's accusations "just fabricated."
After two years of getting pummeled by Democrats over President Bush's handling of the Iraq war and the economy, the GOP says it's finally found an issue that will help it seize two Democrat-held Georgia congressional seats.
Republicans say they own the issue because they never have wavered in their support of offshore drilling.
A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll released June 29 found that 69 percent of Americans support offshore drilling. The same survey found that only half the respondents believed expanding offshore drilling would actually lead to lower gas prices.
"This the first time we've seen the base excited in a long time," said Republican U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland of Grantville. "The Republican base was ready for somebody to stand up and say to the Democrats, 'We're not going to take it anymore.' "
Westmoreland faces an underfunded and little-known Democratic challenger, attorney Stephen Camp of Newnan for the 3rd Congressional District seat. The district runs from the southern suburbs of metro Atlanta to the Alabama state line.
Westmoreland, a two-term Republican congressman who is contemplating a run for governor in 2010, said offshore drilling could be an issue that tips both Barrow's and Marshall's seats to the GOP.
"Jim Marshall and John Barrow can go back to their districts and talk about how conservative they are, but their first vote in the [new] 111th Congress will be to turn the keys of the country back to someone from that liberal San Francisco mentality," Westmoreland said. "And I think there are some Americans who might think that's not such a good idea."
Westmoreland was referring to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), whom Republican lawmakers accuse of being the prime obstructionist to offshore drilling.
Last week, several Georgia congressmen, including Westmoreland, staged a sit-in in the U.S. House to protest Pelosi's decision to adjourn without voting on legislation to end a 27 year ban on offshore drilling on most of the U.S. coastline.
"The whole energy debate shows there's a crisis of leadership, starting with the speaker, right on down through her regime that's running the House," said Georgia U.S. Rep. Tom Price, a Roswell Republican, and a leader of the sit-in.
Price, who represents the suburban north metro Atlanta 6th Congressional District, was referring to the GOP-sponsored American Energy Act, which Republicans have billed "an all-of-the-above" list of energy proposals intended to cut gas prices. Topping that list is opening up offshore drilling sites to add 3 million gallons a day to the nation's oil supply as well as the Arctic "coastal plan" for an additional 1 million gallons.
The plan also calls for converting shale oil into a petroleum-like substance and making it easier for oil companies to build new refineries.
Critics of the plan say that even if these measures are approved, it would take years, if not decades, for new drilling to take place.
The plan also calls for tax incentives for companies and individuals who buy fuel efficient vehicles, producers of alternative sources of energy and a cash prize for whoever invents the first 100 mile per gallon car.
Price's Democratic opponent, Bill Jones, has accused the congressman and other GOP sit-in participants of grandstanding and being insincere about their support for conservation and developing alternative energy sources.