There is an eerie familiarity taking hold in Georgia's runoff Senate race. The same tone that defined the much lamented 2002 contest -- in which challenger Saxby Chambliss questioned the patriotism of triple-amputee, Vietnam vet Max Cleland -- is resurfacing in the current go-around.
This time, Chambliss and other Republican groups are going after Democratic challenger Jim Martin for being soft on crime and a danger to children, even though Martin's daughter was kidnapped at the age of eight and, subsequently, the Georgia Democrat introduced a wide-variety of legislation to protect families from crime.
It's a classic thread of political thought that suggests the best line of attack is to go after your opponent's character strength. And it's a meme that defined Chambliss' past run for office. In 2002, the Georgia Republican (who never served in Vietnam) was widely rebuked for running an advertisement that featured a picture of Cleland alongside one of Saddam Hussein and then Osama bin Laden.
This time around, the Chambliss campaign has put out an ad saying that the Martin was fired from a government position "after children die[d]." The reference was to Martin's 2003 resignation from the post of commissioner of the Department of Human Resources after two toddlers passed away under state supervision -- hardly the implicit involvement that the charge suggests.
But the more controversial attack comes by way of the group Freedom's Watch, which put out an ad that accuses Martin of being a danger to "your family's safety."
"You need to know, one public leader failed to look out for Georgia families: Jim Martin," goes the script. "First he actually helped block stiffer penalties for drunk drivers. And then, Martin voted against tougher sentences for domestic abuse."
Martin's campaign has been quick to push back against the line. The former General Assembly member and Vietnam vet put out an ad of his own, telling the tale of how his eight-year-old daughter, Becky, was kidnapped in 1980 while walking home from school.
"We were blessed that she got away but I never forgot the way she trembled when she faced her kidnapper in court," Martin says, directly into the camera. "That's why I fought so hard to crack down on violent crime and lockup violent criminals."
Martin's response is a good one, in that it doesn't overtly denounce the attacks being launched his way, but rather makes the case that he is the one who is serious about tackling crime -- after all, he knows from personal experience.
Whether Republicans in Georgia can win a second straight Senate race by going after their opponent's personal stories and character strengths remains to be seen. The runoff election is on December 2.