Columbus Ledger-Enquirer reports:
Out-of-power Georgia Democrats gathering for their annual Jefferson Jackson fundraising dinner Tuesday night are eyeing a comeback in the 2010 elections. And the star of the show is the man who's keeping the party guessing with Hamlet-like wavering about whether he'll run: former Gov. Roy Barnes.
Ousted by Republican Sonny Perdue in 2002, Barnes, 61, has been flirting very publicly with whether to jump into the 2010 race to reclaim his old job. Most political experts agree that if Barnes enters the crowded field, he'd become the immediate front runner for his party's nomination.
But Barnes - who has been biding his time at the helm at of his lucrative law practice since being booted from the governor's mansion - said he still hasn't made up his mind.
In recent months, he has been turning up at prayer breakfasts and chicken dinners around the state, road testing a populist message that often sounds a lot like a stump speech.
"I have become very concerned with the agenda of the state being set in the lobbyists' office and not by the public," Barnes said in an interview with The Associated Press.
And in a state that has grown increasingly Republican in recent years, Barnes didn't limit his scorn to the ruling GOP. Barnes said some fellow Democrats are guilty of voting along with "the red wine and thick steak crowd" of lobbyists and special interests that hold sway at the state Capitol.
"There's Democrats to blame too," Barnes said. "There's plenty of blame to go around on both sides."
He declined to name names on either side of the aisle but said he was disturbed by votes in the recent legislative session to award tax breaks to special interests and to give Georgia Power the ability to charge customers early for the construction of two new nuclear reactors.
But whether Barnes would be a savior for Georgia's struggling Democrats is still an open question.
He had a reputation for arrogance that spawned an infamous 2002 campaign ad that depicted him as a rat named "King Roy." His feuded with the state's teachers over education reform.
While some are urging him to run, some in the Democratic Party remember him as the polarizing figure who lost to Perdue, a little-known state senator on a shoestring budget. Barnes' loss opened the door to the first Republican governor in Georgia since Reconstruction and ushered in GOP rule in the state.
And for all his talk of the corrupting influence of lobbyists, Barnes was once criticized for being beholden to the state's business and development interests.
"Yes, some people know him and remember him," Emory University political science professor Alan Abramowitz said. "But that doesn't mean they like him."
Still, he has earned some recognition that could help him rehabilitate his image since his loss.
He received a John F. Kennedy "Profile in Courage" award in 2003 for his work to remove the Confederate Battle symbol from the Georgia flag.
And he strikes a humbler tone these days.
"I don't tell you that I am a perfect candidate. I've made mistakes," he said.
There are already three Democrats in the gubernatorial race: Attorney General Thurbert Baker, House Minority Leader DuBose Porter and former Georgia National Guard Commander David Poythress.
All three have said they will run no matter what Barnes does.
On Tuesday night Barnes said the current field lacked vision.
"It's not that they're not good people. It's just that, listen, we can do better," he said outside the Democratic dinner.
Baker, Porter and Poythress disputed that, laying out agendas they say would move the state forward.
Barnes is a formidable fundraiser - he scooped up $20 million in his 2002 race against Perdue - and could make it difficult for other Democrats to compete.
Barnes said he will make a decision by early June at the latest.
"I'm ambivalent," he said. "Really, I'm happy being a good ol' country lawyer."