May 13, 2009 — On the face of it, Georgia’s Democrats didn’t have all that much to celebrate at this year’s Jefferson-Jackson dinner Tuesday night. The state stayed solid red in last year’s presidential election, and about all the Democrats did was to force US Sen. Saxby Chambliss into a runoff with Jim Martin and pick up four new state House seats, still well short of a majority.
But it was a generally upbeat crowd which gathered in downtown Atlanta to eyeball next year’s crop of candidates, announced and otherwise, and honor former Gov. Carl Sanders and Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin as this year’s “Georgia Giants.” The party reportedly is hearing from a lot more potential candidates for next year’s races than was the case before the 2008 election, and the party faithful has been energized by the new administration in Washington.
This year’s speaker was Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat whose successes through two terms in the Volunteer State have been shaded by the Republicans’ successful takeover of both the state Senate and House last year. His message was that Democrats have been given “a try-out with the American people, not a long-term engagement.”
“We as a party can learn from our past mistakes. Where we are today is a place where our party has been before,” the former Nashville mayor said. The “great failure of my generation,” he said, was the dissipation of the positive energy that surrounded John F. Kennedy’s youthful administration.
To avoid repeating history, Democrats must think through and focus their message, build bridges with those voters who “almost” voted with them in the last election, and think in new ways about the challenges ahead, notably healthcare.
To stay in power, he said, Democrats have to be respectful of different opinions within the party.
“We have got to avoid this Republican disease of becoming the church that roots out the heretics,” Bredesen said.
As you’d expect, all the Democratic candidates for governor – Adjutant Gen. David Poythress, Attorney General Thurbert Baker, and House Minority Leader DuBose Porter (D-Dublin) – were on hand, as was the race’s 800-pound gorilla, former Gov. Roy Barnes.
Barnes was coy as ever when he was asked the inevitable question about his intentions in the race. He again said he will make up his mind around June 1. That’s a date which a lot of Democrats think is mighty late to be getting in. On the other hand, it’s just three weeks away.