Georgia View: The Not-So-Great Eight

Voters increasingly identify themselves as “Independents” instead of Democrats or Republicans. Recent polls put self-classification as “Independent” near 30 percent, with the GOP and Democratic parties holding only slightly higher percentages. Contrast this with the U.S. Senate’s 100 members, with only two Independents.

Further demonstration of the weakening fabric of both parties is the huge field of candidates running for governor of Georgia. Four-teen Democratic and Republican candidates are joined by one Independent attempting to secure ballot access and 50,000 registered voter signatures.

Here’s a look at the candidates:

Thurbert Baker (D), Georgia’s current and three-term Attorney General; Roy Barnes (D), immediate-past Governor, generally well-regarded, but memories of his stinging loss to Gov. Sonny Perdue linger for many; Bill Bolton (D), an obscure conservative from Cobb County, strongly opposed to illegal immigration; Ray Boyd (I), a self-declared “Ronald Reagan Republican” seeking ballot access outside the Georgia GOP; Carl Camon (D), mayor of Ray City, population 746, in Berrien County; Jeff Chapman (R), populist State Senator from Glynn County, credited by some with saving Jekyll Island; Nathan Deal (R), longtime 9th District Congressman and State Senator representing Georgia’s most politically conservative district;

Karen Handel (R), former Secretary of State and Chair of the Fulton County Commission and the only woman on either party ballot; Eric Johnson (R), fiesty, effective and knowledgeable State Senator from Savannah; Randal Mangham (D), State Representative representing parts of DeKalb and Rockdale Counties; Ray McBerry (R), a states’ rights conservative facing troubling personal allegations; John Oxendine (R), consistently leading GOP candidate polls and fund raising, with four terms as Insurance Commis-sioner giving him a boost in name recognition; DuBose Porter (D), gutsy, irreverent and savvy State House Minority Leader and newspaper publisher from Dublin; David Poythress (D), experienced public servant with stints as Secretary of State, Labor Commissioner and Adjutant General; Otis Putnam (R), another obscure candidate, from the Georgia coast.

I’m handicapping this field from more than a dozen “potential” contenders down to a more manageable “not so great eight.” I’ll further predict that Independent candidate Boyd will not collect enough petition signatures to make the ballot.

Absent a major shift in campaign contributions, former Gov. Barnes should lead among Democrats and most likely face a run-off with Baker. A run-off remains possible for Porter or Poythress, although both men have limited geographic bases and are experiencing challenges with fundraising. Barnes has a healthy war chest and strong name recognition.

The GOP field is tougher to call. GOP insiders say frequently that Oxendine’s support is wide but shallow. If he is the GOP nominee, conventional wisdom says that Barnes returns to the Governor’s Mansion.

That said, Oxendine remains ahead in the polls and in fund raising; this all but guarantees a berth in a GOP run-off. Deal at one time had the most committed base, but has taken a pounding for some conflict of interest allegations that may have caused some damage below the water line to his campaign. 

As nearly 55 percent of Georgia registered voters are women, the edge for the other GOP run-off slot goes to Karen Handel. Down-state favorite Eric Johnson is running an impressive campaign. If he can find a compelling issue, and a TV spot or two that catches, he has a shot.

The primaries and run-offs are to some degree partisan popularity contests, so we won’t really see and hear a great deal of issue discussion until this fall.

The future of national and state political parties appears a bit hazy. Political parties offer infrastructure and financial support, but voters seem increasingly in a mood to select candidates offering common sense solutions. Georgia’s gubernatorial candidates might do well to heed this distinction and not run too far to the right or to the left before having to run back towards the middle this fall.

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