Because show business is show business, political strategists and Hollywood producers often employ the same tactics.
Among movie-makers, success at the box office means only one thing: a sequel, featuring the same characters and same plot.
In politics, there’s no bigger hit this year than the Republican civil war between Gov. Charlie Crist and former state House Speaker Marco Rubio in the Florida race for the U.S. Senate.
Backed by tea partyists and GOP hard-cores, the 39-year-old Rubio is mopping the floor with the 53-year-old Crist, who started the race with the backing of the Republican establishment, in both Florida and Washington.
A single embrace by a stimulus-peddling President Barack Obama has crippled the well-tanned governor. The latest primary polls put Rubio 18 points ahead.
That kind of success is bound to encourage imitation. In Georgia, the resignations of U.S. Reps. John Linder and Nathan Deal, within the space of three days, have virtually guaranteed that the dynamics of the Rubio-Crist fight will dominate state GOP politics through the July primary.
The contest for 9th Congressional District, which overlaps the top of Georgia like a hound dog’s ear, has been under way for nearly a year, ever since Deal entered the race for governor.
But Deal’s decision to leave Congress, now postponed until March 31, has pushed a stately procession of 10 declared Republican candidates into overdrive.
The resignation is all but certain to trigger a mid-May special election (and likely runoff) that will give one candidate the right to call himself the incumbent. A second vote, for the full two-year term that begins in January, would be held in July.
Two candidates have dominated the fund-raising — state Rep. Tom Graves of Ranger and state Sen. Lee Hawkins of Gainesville. Graves, a 40-year-old developer and builder, has tied himself closely to the tea party movement. He uses the language of insurgency, referring to his supporters as “freedom fighters.”
“I think people are fed up. They’re saying enough’s enough. They’re an energized group of people,” said Graves campaign manager Tim Baker. In 2008, FreedomWorks, the group led by Dick Armey that helped kick-start the tea party movement, gave awards to two state lawmakers. One was Rubio. The other was Graves.
Hawkins, 59, is more a traditional Republican — a practicing dentist for 30 years, first elected to the Legislature in 2006. His focus in the congressional campaign is small business. He pitches himself as a steady conservative and has had little contact with the tea party movement. “He’s not really associated with it at all,” said his spokesman, Steve Holman.
Georgia’s 7th District, which Linder is giving up after 18 years, covers much of east metro Atlanta, including most of Gwinnett County. Like the 9th, it is solid Republican territory — at least for now.
The 7th has picked up about 87,000 newly registered voters in the past four years. Only 21 percent are white.
The field could become crowded, but the first two Republican candidates to jump in after Linder announced his retirement were state Sen. Don Balfour of Snellville and state Rep. Clay Cox of Lilburn.
Cox immediately declared himself the “tea party” candidate and challenged Balfour to give up his powerful position as chairman of the Senate Rules Committee — which determines the fate of most legislation in the Capitol. “It is a conflict of interest to hold legislation sponsored by people or groups whose support you want in a congressional race,” Cox said.
Cox is 41. Balfour is 53. Yet another instance of a Young Turk positioning himself against an older, more established rival.
But every Rubio needs his Crist. And Balfour insists he won’t be typecast. Asked whether he, too, would claim to be the tea party candidate, the Waffle House executive replied, “I’m the Republican candidate.”
But he has allied himself with tea partyists in the past. When the Gwinnett County Commission threatened a 25 percent property tax increase last summer, it was Balfour who threatened the commissioners with a recall — and forced them to back down.
“I carry the flag up the hill. I don’t just vote pro-life. I pass the bill,” Balfour said. As for conflicts of interest, the senator said he was quite willing to discuss legislation Cox introduced last year to limit government oversight of the private probation business.
Cox is CEO of a large private probation company.
This is the problem with all sequels. Scripting an outcome is especially hard when we don’t know how the original drama — the one in Florida — will end until August.
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