Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Article from Congressional Quarterly Politics.

Georgia’s Democrats, who will be trying to reclaim a governor’s office they dominated for well more than a century before Perdue’s first win in 2002, face quite opposite political circumstances. Barnes, the potential favorite for their nomination, is still on the outside, mulling his decision about whether to run.

Referring to Barnes, University of Georgia political science professor Charles S. Bullock III said, “If he were to enter, he would immediately become the Democratic front-runner.”

Bullock’s analysis appeared to be backed by the InsiderAdvantage poll. It showed Barnes leading the Democratic field with 35 percent of the vote. Baker, who has won three elections for state attorney general and is bidding to become the state’s first black governor, ran a distant second at 11 percent. The other two announced candidates were in the low single digits, and 49 percent undecided. Read more at

Barnes’ spokesman Chris Carpenter said the former governor, who practices law in the Atlanta suburb of Marietta, has received encouragement from business and community leaders to wage a campaign, but is still undecided.

“He’s hearing from lots of folks and he knows he’s got to make a decision,” said Carpenter, who added that Barnes will announce his decision “by the end of May.”

Yet even though Barnes’ past experience and name ID might push him to the head of the Democratic field, Bullock added that “it’s not clear that he could win the governorship.”

Barnes had been regarded as a solid favorite for re-election entering his 2002 campaign, but some controversies surfaced up during his term ended up costing him. Many white voters, especially in rural areas, voiced resentment in 2001 after Barnes ordered a redesign of the state flag, which had been dominated since 1956 by a representation of the the Confederate “stars and bars” battle flag. He also angered teachers and weakened his political base by pushing an education overhaul bill that required testing of students and teachers.

Perdue came from behind to defeat Barnes by 51 percent to 46 percent. Perdue won re-election in 2006 much more easily, defeating Democrat Mark Taylor, then the incumbent lieutenant governor, by 58 percent to 38 percent.

Among the candidates already in the field, Baker has by far the biggest political base from his previous statewide campaigns and his ties to an overwhelmingly Democratic African-American constituency that makes up more than a quarter of Georgia’s population.

But Towery of the InsiderAdvantage firm that produced the governor’s race poll said he expects that Baker and Barnes would campaign fairly evenly for support of black voters. “I don’t see Thurbert simply taking the African-American vote,” Towery said.

Political scientist Black also said “it’s not a foregone conclusion” that African-American voters will rally around Baker’s candidacy.

Black and Towery both said Baker’s standing with some African-American voters could be hurt by his strong defense of Georgia’s law that requires state residents to produce a state-issued form of identification in order to vote — a statute that critics say could complicate voting for poorer citizens who do not have driver’s licenses or alternative state identification — and his opposition in 2007 to the release of Genarlow Wilson, who had been sentenced to 10 years in jail for engaging in consensual oral sex with a 15-year old girl when he was 17.

Longtime Atlanta political columnist Tom Baxter, who is now the editor of the Southern Political Report, said transportation issues could give Democrats an opening to take back the governor’s mansion.

“The legislative session ended without any clarity about transportation funding,” Baxter said. “There’s a lot of widespread discontent in the Atlanta metro area with how the legislature has handled things.”

Gubernatorial candidate Porter, who leads the Democratic opposition in the state House, said Georgia Republicans “don’t have the commitment or political will” to address the transportation problems.

DuBose Porter may have said the statement that democrats are going to have to acknowledge:

A rural attorney and newspaper publisher, Porter took his critique further, accusing the Republicans of lacking leadership on education, conservation and health care issues. He said his positioning as a Democratic moderate and ties to both rural Georgia and the Atlanta business community give him an advantage over the other Democrats in the field.

“You have to have rural Georgia to win,” Porter said. “I’m the only one that can bring rural Georgia in a way that’s compatible with the needs of Atlanta.”

Poythress, a former commander of the Georgia National Guard and the first candidate to enter the race, said he considers himself a conservative Democrat in the mold of Zell Miller, a former governor and senator, and former Sen. Sam Nunn. He said he is not worried by the

success of statewide Republicans in the last few election cycles.

“Georgia is fundamentally a very conservative state,” Poythress said. “It is not fundamentally Republican.”

Longtime Atlanta political columnist Tom Baxter, who is now the editor of the Southern Political Report, said transportation issues could give Democrats an opening to take back the governor’s mansion.

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