Shipp: Republicans should continue dominance in Georgia politics
Enjoy two-party politics while you can. Democrats struck out in the last two statewide elections. They may go down swinging again on Nov. 7, ending a 26-year stint of competitive Democrat vs. Republican politics in Georgia.
Unless Mark Taylor can stage an election upset, Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue seems destined to waltz to re-election. Democrat Jim Martin is the undisputed underdog in the race for lieutenant governor against GOP state Sen. Casey Cagle.
The longer-term future looks equally bleak for Democrats. U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the Republican who drove Democrat Max Cleland from the Senate six years ago, is up for re-election in 2008. Democrats do not have a capable challenger in sight.
Another resounding Democratic defeat puts the Republican Party in full charge of our political destiny. Just as in the old days of Democratic control, voters' choices will be limited. Major candidates will sing virtually the same tune. The candidate who can sing loudest will emerge the winner. The lyrics to that victory song are yet to be decided, but Democratic history may offer a clue. Until 1964 and the passage of the Voting Rights Act, every important Democratic candidate in Georgia chanted, "I'm a segregationist." After 1964, many white Democrats used code words to continue the same message.
Today's looming sea change is rooted more in race than in any fundamental shift in ideology. Modern Georgia Republican leaders sound, look and act just like yesteryear's Democratic chieftains. In several cases, like Perdue, the new GOP generals are simply Democratic retreads.
In post-2006 elections, the main events will likely occur in the Republican primary, possibly between rural and suburban candidates.
Remember this well-worn newspaper phrase from the 20th century: "Winning the Georgia Democratic primary is tantamount to election"? Substitute "Republican" for "Democrat." That's what our political future looks like.
From around 1964 until 1980, underdog Republicans made slow but sure progress toward parity, but they were not within striking distance of a major statewide office.
Then a little-known Republican upstart, Mack Mattingly, ended the Democratic monopoly on high offices. He defeated Sen. Herman Talmadge and became the first Republican senator from Georgia since Reconstruction. Although Mattingly turned out to be a one-termer, he had released the GOP genie.
The genie notwithstanding, a Democratic coalition of rural whites and blacks held onto power in Atlanta until 2002 when Gov. Roy Barnes lost to Perdue. In that same election, Vietnam War veteran Cleland fell to Chambliss, who portrayed the triple-amputee former infantry officer as sympathetic to our terrorist enemies. Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor led the Democratic survivors of their party's train wreck. Taylor had carefully separated himself from the doomed Barnes-Cleland nexus.
The 2004 Senate election to replace retiring renegade Democrat Zell Miller signaled the Democrats' total collapse. They nominated Congresswoman Denise Majette, an eccentric African American with no chance to capture the vacant Senate seat. Johnny Isakson, a Republican once considered too moderate for most Georgia voters, won Miller's seat in a landslide.
What does such a sea change portend for Georgia?
Sen. Chambliss may glide to an easy re-election.
And the next governor - the one who will succeed Perdue - is all but certain to emerge from the ranks of Republican primary contestants. House Speaker Glenn Richardson, Congressman Lynn Westmoreland or a promising but presently little known legislator may go for governor.
Of course, a couple of possibilities could spoil the above scenario:
• Taylor might catch fire in the closing days of the election campaign. Even if he doesn't win, defeat by a very narrow margin could rekindle Democratic flames. A few years ago, both North Carolina and Virginia were declared "Republican forever" states. Democrats now govern both.
• On the national level, Republicans could reject centrist Sen. John McCain of Arizona and turn to a whacko as their presidential choice. If that should happen, even Georgia voters might think twice about swimming outside the nation's mainstream.