Democratic candidates for Gov. in '06: Just Taylor or Taylor vs. Cox. -- It ain't over till the fat lady sings, & she most definitely hasn't sung yet.
After Nov. 2, the question for Georgia Democrats is whether they can afford a two-person slamfest for governor in '06
Three months ago, Democrats were quick to describe Sonny Perdue as a one-termer, an accidental governor surely vulnerable to the right challenger.
But the numbers racked up by George W. Bush and Johnny Isakson in the November elections, not to mention the sudden completion of the GOP takeover of the Legislature, have changed all that. No longer can Democrats fool themselves into thinking that Georgia voters were merely experimenting when they sent Gov. Roy Barnes packing in 2002.
"It was not a one-time flirtation with Republicans. They may be falling in love — which is bad news for Democrats in 2006," said Charles Bullock, the eminent political scientist up in Athens.
For Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, the results of November don't change the landscape of a race for governor two years hence. They just change the odds. Taylor's got a stash of cash and may have already waded so deeply into the race that turning back would be just as risky as going forward.
But this is not so for Secretary of State Cathy Cox, the other Democrat contemplating a gubernatorial run. Before the Nov. 2 election, the question on everyone's lips at the state Capitol was when Cox would enter the race. Now it has quickly become a matter of 'if."
Most Republicans fear Cox more than Taylor in '06, simply because of the unknown impact she would make among white women, the most fickle sector of the GOP support system. Never before has a woman made a serious play for the Democratic nomination for governor.
But Cox's political base at the Capitol had been in a Democratically controlled House, where she and her father both served. Had Terry Coleman survived as House speaker, Cox in all likelihood would have had the support of both Coleman and his powerful office. Plus all the lobbyist cash he could bring with him. Republican control of that chamber significantly alters the funding picture for Cox.
On a broader scope, state Democratic officials are already making the same calculations that Georgia Republicans had forced upon them throughout most of the 20th century. When it comes to the '06 governor's race, Democrats will have some money, but not enough to finance both a knock-down primary between Cox and Taylor and a general election contest against a superbly funded Perdue.
Some Democratic officials have told us they'd like to see Cox run for lieutenant governor, to create a Taylor-Cox ticket. That's not likely to happen. If Cox decides that patience is the better part of valor, she'd probably stick to her current office — and depend on the strength that incumbency provides.
Interestingly, Cox's future could be in the hands of Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, who wields much more influence in a smaller Democratic party weighted heavily with votes from Fulton and DeKalb counties. So far, Franklin has remained studiously neutral in efforts to shape the '06 contest.
(End of PI.)
Immediately after the election Bill Shipp weighed in with his own thoughts about the foregoing matter, writing "If Cox and Taylor value their political careers, they will avoid a primary fight - or even wait until Perdue's second term ends. By that time, voters really ought to be ready for a change."
I also discussed this issue in a 10-24-04 post under the subtitle "Part I: Conventional thinking, that is, Taylor or Cox vs. Sonny or just Taylor vs. Sonny." (This post contained the following quote: "The word around the Capitol: Cox and Taylor had struck a deal to avoid a costly primary between the state’s two most promising Democrats. Guess what? No deal. “A deal? That’s preposterous. Cathy and Mark don’t even talk,” says a Cox adviser.)
In addition to the factors discussed in the PI article, a couple of thoughts occurred to me that might have some relevance to the Taylor and Cox developing story:
(1) Bobby Kahn: Is there a Bobby Kahn factor floating under the surface here? Some Party officials are out for his head -- although they may settle with just wrestling the Party's Chair from him? (see 11-12-04 post.)(Although this raises the difficult issue of upon whom the Party would bestow the same).
While the Lt. Gov. has been the standard-bearer for the Party (in the absense of a Democratic Governor who has always been the unofficial head of the Party), is there a perceived affinity and identification of interest between the two such that any action involving Kahn could be perceived as a negative for Taylor.
(If there is a perception of identity of interest, at least don't fault Taylor for his generosity to the cause. You will recall that this summer he gave some $500,000 of funds from his Lt. Gov. fund to the Party, funds that under state law can't be transferred from one campaign chest to another. (see 10-21-04 post.)
As many Party loyalists were calling for his head following the 2002 and 2004 meltdowns, Kahn did not help himself by adding to the perception of being on the losing side of things with his backing of Howard Mead's unsuccessful $3 million race for the Georgia Court of Appeals seat.
(2) The black vote: The PI's observation that Ms. Cox's future could be in the hands of Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin is truly fascinating.
While pre-Nov. 2 polls that we have reviewed (11-06-04 post and 10-19-04 post) give Ms. Cox a slight advantage over the Lt. Gov. in a match with Gov. Perdue, I personally do not believe that the Ms. Cox has an edge with just black voters. The Lt. Gov. has worked hard to court this group of voters during his tenure as Lt.Gov., and in some parts of the state has an almost Clinton-like following among black voters.
(3) Fund raising: I have no knowledge about the players, loyalties, politics, etc. (let's just say really anything) in this area, and thus my thoughts are pure discussion and speculation.
I do know the Lt. Gov. has on in-house fund raising machine that is as good as they come.
I also have been told that the Democratic Party's heavy in this area, Kristin Oblander, is on some sort of retainer with the state Party, and regardless, I do know she only works for Democratic candidates (yeah, she's the one that raised the $21 million for Gov. Barnes; she raised it, Bobby Kahn spent it).
Although the clout that Rep. Terry Coleman could have swayed would be missing giving the change in events in the state House as discussed by the PI, it appears to me that Ms. Oblander would consider lending her considerable clout to and working for Ms. Cox, assuming the Lt. Gov.'s staff has its bases covered in-house. (This is where I am ignorant. With her identify and association with the state Party now, assuming my understanding is correct, would she sign up with opposition to the head of the Party? I would think in a New Jersey second, but this is pure guessing on my part.)
In this area, I am showing my ignorance in discussion, but my thoughts occurred to me and I am sharing them with you.
(4) Surfacing of another Democratic candidate. In different times, if Ms. Cox bows out of a challenge with the Lt. Gov. -- whether in taking a hit for the Party or to not risk her political career -- the chances that another challenger would step forward without anything at risk to challenge Mark Taylor increases greatly.
Who could such be? This is the problem. Who? Someone might surface, although at this time given our Party's situation, it is not as likely as in more regular times.
A possibility -- unlikely or otherwise -- would be Rep. Larry Walker. Another just as unlikely would be Roy Barnes. Don't categorically rule such things out. Future events will dictate the future.
(And I do agree that if Ms. Cox does not run for Gov., she will pass on running for Lt. Gov., and remain in her position as Secretary of State. Besides, we sure would miss seeing her on TV in her public-service series.)
(5) The Fat Lady is not even scheduled to sing until after the 2005 session concludes: This much I feel very confident in saying. Much can happen. Here's to hoping it does.
The Gov. began with 2003 session wearing his easy rider motorcycle helmet. This time he may feel inclined to look presidential, and come to the Capitol dressed in an Easter bunny outfit.