UPDATED: (1) Can a Dem. Take Gov.'s Mansion? -- A loss in this year by GOP would be embarrassing—& fully deserved; & (2) From the C. Squire Archives
Kyle Wingfield, a columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, has written the subject of this post for The Wall Street Journal.
Before sharing the article, I want to revisit a 6-4-09 post entitled "What is Tom Crawford smoking even thinking such, much less writing it down: "The rural white voters who abandoned Barnes in 2002 are gone for good," that read:
Tom Crawford of Capitol Impact yesterday wrote:
The rural white voters who abandoned Barnes in 2002 are gone for good. I don't see how he could do anything to win them back.
My friend Tom, editor of Capitol Impact, needs to venture out of the capital city to down here in South Georgia. He will find many, many elated with Governor Barnes's willingness to put aside his successful law practice and endure the sacrifices in his personal life that will follow from his commitment to spend much of the next year and a half campaigning on a full-time basis.
Do I think he can carry South Georgia? Yes.
Do I think he will carry South Georgia? Yes, just as surely as grits are groceries.
History will record Roy Barnes's decision to jump into the 2010 race as a momentous and historically significant event.
Thanks for signing up Roy. We are ready, willing and able to do our part in this part of the Other Georgia to make you Georgia's next governor.
Do I still think Roy Barnes will carry South Georgia? Yes, but not by the margin that I had hoped for. I had calculated the changing the flag crowd, but I did think there would be a bigger change among the teachers.
There is one a change with the one I sleep with every night, but many others find it difficult to forgive and forget and are going to vote against their own interest. Roy is now and always has been an education first type leader.
During his recent visit to Douglas and Coffee County I discussed with him the advisibility of stopping his ads making an appeal for the teacher vote. This was because his ads, although accurate and in fact what he will strive to do, were not being effective with respect to changing minds.
And we also discussed that this did not mean that he would not strive to an education governor, and I fully expect as much.
But other than with some in the educator crowd who really don't have anyone to vote for, Roy is on fire.
But South Georgia is only South Georgia. How about the rest of the Empire State? Can Roy pull it off?
You can take it to the bank (make sure it is a sound one). Roy will be our next governor.
Again Roy, thanks for running.
Following making this post, I received an email from a person very connected in Georgia politics and very much in the know. He commented on my post as follows:
I recall very well Tom Crawford's article and your excellent response. Roy will win Middle and South Ga. He has very quietly put together a great grassroots network. This race will be decided south of Macon.
I disagree with you about the vote of teachers. Teachers up here are almost violent about vouchers. Roy has had 4 or 5 teacher forums up here -- the response has been amazing each time. He will get the majority of the teacher vote -- they are tired of the last eight years.
I wrote back:
I hope you are right. I felt this was the case two months ago. The basis of my statement in the blog post was the reaction I received from several educators recently when inviting them to a function for Roy in Douglas.
But in truth, the recent negative reaction I received was primarily from retired educators who did not experience years of austerity and other budget cuts, and not teaching now, do not know that a calendar adjustment is Teacher Retirement System lingo for furloughs, something the retired teachers never experienced.
You are right about the voucher issue. I am not sure many teachers are aware of the position by the GOP candidates on this topic, but it will come out during the campaign.
I will say this without qualification. If teachers don't vote for Roy, they won't have a candidate that has their best interest at heart. It will be a repeat of 2002 -- they will voting against rather than for someone.
Now to the subject of this post, The Wall Street Journal article.
For a case study in how red state Republicans are giving Democrats an opening in what should be a GOP year, look no further than the Georgia governor's mansion.
It's been eight years since Georgians elected Sonny Perdue as their first Republican governor since Reconstruction. But his tenure has offered future candidates few bragging rights, and the Republican field for this Tuesday's primary is an uninspiring jumble. With the GOP anticipating big national success in November, a high-profile loss in Georgia would be a stinging embarrassment.
After decades of promising to make government leaner and cleaner if given the chance, state Republicans adopted many of the bad habits they'd criticized. Since 2000, Georgia has had one of the nation's fastest growing populations, but surging revenues didn't translate into tax cuts. The budget grew three times faster than the population did—almost 40%, to $21.2 billion in fiscal year 2009 from $15.2 billion in 2003.
When the recession hit and revenues plunged, the state's GOP leadership only downsized a little bit, and then only very reluctantly. Over the past two years they have rescinded $428 million in property tax relief that their Democratic predecessors had passed, instituted a $200 million plus hospital bed tax, relied on billions in federal stimulus dollars to balance the budget, and tried to get by with a series of furloughs—anything but make lasting cuts.
Meantime, they've accomplished little on the conservative agenda they all pay lip service to. A 2005 tort reform was gutted this spring by the state Supreme Court in a unanimous decision. As for school choice, there's been only modest progress: This spring, legislators couldn't even bring themselves to extend vouchers to military families and foster kids, likely because they feared a backlash from the education establishment. And lawmakers made only one attempt to simplify the convoluted state tax code.
The Republicans' best reason for optimism is a conservative electorate that bucked the leftward national trend in 2006 and 2008, and is hot as a teapot about President Obama's policies.
For months, the nominal GOP front-runner has been John Oxendine, who's served as the state's insurance commissioner since 1995. Despite being well-known, Mr. Oxendine is shunned by the Georgia Republican establishment, which considers him a potential nightmare for the party's image. He's been ridiculed in the press for putting a siren and blue light atop his personal car to weave through Atlanta traffic.
More seriously, Mr. Oxendine faces a state ethics investigation into money funneled to his campaign from a friendly insurance executive via out-of-state PACs. He returned the money after my newspaper reported the donations; an ethics commission hearing has been postponed until after the primaries.
But the most recent polling suggests that former Secretary of State Karen Handel may have overtaken Mr. Oxendine. As in other states, like California and South Carolina, Sarah Palin seems to have worked her magic: Mrs. Handel's popularity took off after Mrs. Palin endorsed her this past week. Within days, she rolled out a robocall recorded by Mrs. Palin to more than 300,000 households.
Mrs. Handel also touts the support of Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer. Her state's fight with the federal government over its new illegal immigration law has many fans in Georgia, which reportedly has more illegal aliens than Arizona does.
These endorsements have chapped the hide of a third candidate, Nathan Deal, who until recently was tied for second place with Mrs. Handel. In an otherwise quiet 17 years in Congress, Mr. Deal repeatedly proposed ending birthright citizenship for immigrants. His tactic has been to portray Mrs. Handel as socially liberal on issues like gay rights, which in Georgia is a political liability.
Hoping to slide by them as they squabble is longtime state senator Eric Johnson. Mr. Johnson is an outspoken school-choice advocate and may be the purest social and economic conservative in contention. But the Savannah resident is not well-known among the Atlanta suburbanites who cast a big chunk of GOP primary votes.
Awaiting the eventual GOP nominee presumably will be Roy Barnes, a Democrat who served one term as governor before Mr. Perdue defeated him in 2002. Mr. Barnes entered the race as the Democratic leader, and the main question is whether he can win the nomination without a runoff.
Either way, Mr. Barnes would still face an uphill battle in a conservative state. His chance of moving back into the governor's mansion hinges on which candidate emerges from the GOP contest. Running against Mr. Oxendine would be Mr. Barnes's best bet; if he's on the Republican ticket, many conservative voters and activists would likely stay at home.
If Mr. Barnes can convince voters he's not a Democrat in the Obama-Pelosi-Reid mold—he's already talking about tax cuts and helping small businesses—while Republicans bloody each other in a run-off, Georgians may decide that after 130 years of all-Democratic rule and an eight-year GOP reign, it's time to see what divided government looks like.