At midnight on Friday, while you lay all snug in your bed, the state’s largest game of Texas hold ‘em began in earnest.
Eleven candidates for governor reported nearly $7.5 million raised in the last six months of 2009. The best cards of the evening were laid down by Democrat and former Gov. Roy Barnes, who reported an eye-popping $2.7 million in his attempt at a comeback.
On the Republican side, state Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine continued his domination. He’s has generated more than $1.5 million since June, more than twice as much as the next GOP candidate.
The poker comparison isn’t made lightly.
Many consider cash to be a crass measure of a sacred democratic process. But state-mandated contribution disclosures are very much like those first cards played face up in a game of chance.
They do not tell the whole story. But they begin to limit the possibilities. And the cards often say more than candidates would like — about friends who support them, and about their viability. For instance:
– Carl Camon, a Democratic candidate for governor, is a teacher and the eloquent mayor of Ray City, down near Valdosta. His campaign reports $12.84 in cash on hand. Consider his immediate future to be limited.
– Karen Handel, the former secretary of state and only woman in the contest, has become the most vociferous Republican critic of the culture of “sex, lies and lobbyists” at the state Capitol. She has raised $559,975 since June – coming in fourth behind Oxendine, former state senator Eric Johnson of Savannah, and U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal of Gainesville.
Because the Capitol is a prime source of campaign cash for the Republicans who rule it, Handel’s primary rivals are now likely to portray her condemnations as a case of sour grapes.
– Republicans of all stripes perhaps should worry about this tidbit: In the last half of 2009, led by Barnes, the five Democratic candidates for governor raised a total of $3.75 million – slightly more than the seven GOP candidates.
The January disclosures are of more immediate importance to Democrats than Republicans.
Despite the good showing, Democrats remain at a financial disadvantage in Georgia politics, and are eager to avoid a suicidal and expensive primary fight for governor, as happened in 2006 between Secretary of State Cathy Cox and Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor.
Barnes’ $2.7 million report has already set off a series of negotiations to winnow the field, likely to last until qualifying in April.
One target is House Democratic Leader DuBose Porter of Dublin, who came in fourth in the six-month fund-raising sweepstakes (or third, if you count unspent cash in the bank) – behind Barnes, Attorney General Thurbert Baker, and former National Guard commander David Poythress.
Here’s the line being used, by Barnes supporters and others, on the newspaper publisher:
Last year, enthralled by Barack Obama’s victory, Democrats were thinking in terms of a biracial ticket, with a white candidate for governor at the top, and an African-American running for lieutenant governor. Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond was often mentioned for the latter spot.
But Obama’s approval rating has dropped to 35 percent in Georgia. Moreover, Kasim Reed’s razor-thin victory in the Atlanta mayoral race may be a sign that – despite an African-American in the White House – lackluster black turnout may continue to be the rule in non-presidential years.
So a racially balanced ticket is now less important. And a South Georgia presence is more important – or so the argument goes.
“I’ve been quietly encouraging DuBose to run for the lieutenant governor’s position,” said state Sen. Emanuel Jones of DeKalb County, who is also chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus.
Baker, the African-American attorney general, is unlikely to drop his gubernatorial bid, Jones said.
We caught up with Porter on Saturday morning. He was the only major Democratic candidate to attend a breakfast meeting of the Georgia Black Chamber of Commerce in icy downtown Atlanta.
Porter says he likes his chances in the race for governor, and has no plans to switch contests. “I feel good where we are,” he said
But it’s the kind of talk that money can start.
Below is a summary chart of disclosures in the 2010 race for governor:
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