If the Democratic primary for governor were a football game, Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor's team would be leading 10-0 near the end of the second quarter. Cathy Cox's team would have fumbled at least twice and not even rolled up a first down. Secretary of State Cox had better get moving. Her chances of winning the Democratic nomination for governor are diminishing daily.
Just a few weeks ago, Cathy seemed a natural to win the Democratic contest on July 18. She had the right folks on her side. Her money-raising efforts were on track. Taylor, the other Democrat, appeared almost easy pickings.
"Look," I said to myself at the time. "We already have a Republican bubba governor. Do voters want to trade him in for a Democratic bubba? Democrats need a fresh face. Besides, the time is ripe for Georgia to elect a woman governor."
In October, your humble pundit wrote an open letter to Taylor. "Don't run for governor next year," I advised. "Run for re-election as lieutenant governor." I looked into the tea leaves and saw Cox trampling Taylor. If she didn't beat him, incumbent Republican Sonny Perdue certainly would. I like Mark. I didn't want to see him hurt.
Cathy's pre-kickoff warm-up had all the trappings of a great resurgence of progressive politics. Mark's material seemed old hat. Taylor catered too much to blacks like Andy Young. He shrugged off the Atlanta smart set. How could he do things like that and hope to win?
OK, I admit it now. The tea leaves were dead wrong.
With just two months left before the primary, Taylor is running wild on TV, scaring the daylights out of the entrenched Republicans. The general election is still half a year off, yet Perdue has already felt forced to mount a negative campaign to try to slow Taylor's momentum. Cox is still at the starting line. No paid TV for Cox is in sight.
What happened? Sure, she's short of cash. She apparently is saving up for a last-minute deluge of advertising to try to catch up. That could turn into a losing strategy.
Cathy has a statewide identification problem. Though she is fairly well-known and generally liked, many voters confuse her with the other Kathy Cox, the so-so Republican state school superintendent. In fact, some observers believe Kathy Cox won her first election as education chief because voters mistook her for Cathy Cox, the secretary of state.
The real Cathy Cox needs to stand up and start a statewide campaign before it's too late.
Impartial consultants say Cathy ought to begin TV advertising immediately, with a positive message to remind voters who she is and what she has done. They say such a change in direction could energize her fundraising efforts and restart the campaign.
If she waits much longer to begin her media efforts, Cathy will have little choice but to attack Taylor to try to suppress enthusiasm for his candidacy. In effect, she will be assisting Perdue in hanging onto the governor's office.
Another problem for Cathy has popped up - one that many of us never foresaw. Electing a woman governor doesn't look quite as fashionable as it did a few months back. Former state school superintendent Linda Schrenko's guilty plea in federal court has entered the picture. Schrenko admits she stole $600,000 in federal funds to help underwrite her failed 2002 bid for governor. She is expected to spend eight years in prison. Bizarre tales of her behavior as state education czar also are beginning to surface. To be kind, the first woman elected to a nonjudicial, statewide office comes across as unbalanced.
To be sure, Cathy Cox is not another Linda Schrenko. Cathy has been a first-rate secretary of state. She has shown competency and imagination in performing her official duties. Still, Cathy needs to remind voters that a good woman is not hard to find in Georgia politics.
The primary contest is far from over. Cathy may be a slow starter, but she remains a viable candidate for Georgia's top job. Before it's too late, she should remember what happened to her former boss, then-Secretary of State Lewis Massey, in 1998. He also appeared to be just the right person to win the governor's office to take charge of the post-Miller Democratic Party. However, he allowed Roy Barnes to get on TV first with the most ads in the Democratic primary. By the time Massey launched his effort, Barnes was unstoppable.