ATLANTA, GEORGIA--John Bozeman thought he had his candidate. A Republican lobbyist working the Georgia state legislature, Bozeman liked Fred Thompson--his ideas, his plan, and his values. So did many of Georgia's legislators, dozens of whom endorsed the former Tennessee senator last year. "Early on, everyone was in Fred's camp," Bozeman said.
But ever since Thompson's campaign fizzled, Bozeman hasn't found another presidential match and like many Republicans in the Peach State, he remains unsure about whom to cast a ballot for on Super Tuesday.
The indecision among Republicans voters is particularly significant in Georgia, an open primary state that has the third-largest number of Republican delegates next Tuesday.
John McCain's win in Florida may set the Arizona senator on the path to victory February 5, but he will hardly be rallying a unanimous set of voters in southern states like Georgia.
McCain is likely to draw support from the state's many veterans, political analysts say. But his push for immigration reform last summer has angered part of the more conservative base. "He's a maverick," says Sadie Fields, head of the Georgia Christian Alliance. "But it's hard to know what a maverick is going to do."
That is part of why both Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee may make significant showings. Romney, for one, has won the endorsement of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as well as of many of the same legislators who had put in their hats with Thompson. And Romney's corporate background has helped win donations from the state's business leaders.
Huckabee, the Arkansas governor and one-time preacher, has a natural edge among Georgia's religious and conservative Republicans, who have helped his grass-roots campaign across the state. The most recent election poll--on January 22--put Huckabee at the top with 34 percent. McCain was a distant second at 19 percent. And he's made a point to visit, including during an antiabortion rally at the state capitol last week.
Ultimately, voters may wait until the last minute and as the race--and campaign visits--mount over the final stretch. But says Matt Towery, chair of InsiderAdvantage polling, Georgia will be "a battle for the heart and soul of the party."
By Emma Schwartz