By Dick Pettys
(6/3/09) Former Gov. Roy Barnes, whose defeat after a single term in 2002 sent shockwaves through Georgia politics and set the stage for Republicans to control state government for much of the past eight years, will announce today he is seeking his old job back.
That ends months of speculation about whether he will seek to swing the state back into the Democratic column, at least at the chief executive level. Winning back the Legislature is not something most observers see in the cards for Democrats for the timebeing.
The announcement is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. in Marietta, but the campaign won’t begin immediately. Between now and July 1, the official launch date, he will be wrapping up current commitments.
While the decision doesn’t exactly come out of the blue, given the amount of speculation it had spawned, it does set Democratic politics spinning.
An InsiderAdvantage / Majority Opinion Research poll conducted May 21 showed Barnes the prohibitive favorite in the Democratic race for governor should he decide to run. He was at 38 percent, compared with 3 percent for Attorney General Thurbert Baker, 2 percent for former Adjutant General David Poythress and 2 percent for House Minority Leader DuBose Porter, with some 53 percent of likely Democratic voters undecided.
It also impacts the Republican calculus, putting a name with star power into the mix in what some had rated as a pushover field for whoever captured the Republican nomination. Barnes knows the state and in the past showed himself to be a prolific fundraiser, although that skill did not help him fend off the surprisingly strong challenge from Sonny Perdue. (He outspent Perdue $20 million to $4 million.)
Barnes’ loss has been blamed variously on his alienation of teachers with a far-reaching school reform plan, anxiety among suburban voters over the proposed Northern Arc and his swift and successful push to remove the Confederate battle emblem from Georgia’s flag. Too, Perdue successfully exploited the Democrat’s 2001 effort to use redistricting to retard Republican gains.
After exiting the executive mansion in 2003, Barnes gave six months of free legal work to the poor, then opened his own law shop that by all accounts appears to be going great guns. His flag stand earned him a prestigious Profile in Courage award from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library Foundation.
Without a second term to finish what he started, Barnes has seen many of the top efforts of his administration dismantled or deferred – reducing class sizes, developing a strong regional transportation system and even providing an enhanced homestead exemption for homeowners.
At various stages of the 2010 campaign, he will encounter some of the operatives who contributed to his defeat in 2002. Working for Republican Karen Handel is bomb-throwing communications specialist Dan McLagan, who helped devise the famous rat ad in the 2002 campaign. Derrick Dickey, also a veteran of the 2002 campaign, is advising Republican Eric Johnson.
Poythress made it clear he, at least for one, isn't getting out of the way in the Democratic battle. "Roy is obviously going to try to outrun his past polarizing, divisive style of leadership andI don't think the voters are going to let him do that," he said. Poythress said the race will be about his vision for the future versus Barnes' past divisive past.