Michael Thurmond, known as one of the most cautious men in Georgia politics, spent the weekend on the phone with the essential stage hands of the state Democratic party, explaining the gamble he’s about to take.
The three-term state labor commissioner has plans on Wednesday – moved from Tuesday, as first reported — to announce his U.S. Senate candidacy against Republican incumbent Johnny Isakson.
Consider that Thurmond is, like Attorney General Thurbert Baker or former Gov. Roy Barnes, an A-list Democrat – often mentioned as a candidate for higher office, but never taking the plunge.
Also consider that Isakson may be the strongest and most popular Republican in Georgia.
So the question becomes whether Thurmond, a former state lawmaker from Athens, has been hiding a passion for the roulette wheel.
The answer is yes – and no.
Thurmond is better than good on the stump, and has a friendly demeanor that goes down well with voters. But he’s enough of a politician to understand the risk.
There are always unknowns. Isakson, 65, has had some health issues this spring. Polling has shown some vulnerability. And while the tea party movement has added emotion to the Republican side of the ledger, it’s also added a certain brittleness.
But the known knowns, as Donald Rumsfeld might say, include this: Isakson has raised $6 million for his re-election bid. And a contest against him is an uphill slog by any measure.
So what, short of outright victory in November, is Thurmond up to?
Politics is very rarely a team sport – but we may be seeing the equivalent of a sacrifice fly to deep right field, for the sake of advancing or protecting the Democratic runners already on base.
Thurmond is a sign that Democrats in Georgia and in Washington, with reapportionment coming next year, are dead serious about November.
Point One: All four major Democratic candidates for governor are casting Republican ineptitude in the state Capitol as the issue that will carry them into the general election.
The GOP, on the other hand, will do its best to tie Democrats to Washington and President Barack Obama, who does not poll well here in Georgia. Not among white independents. The economy will be the topic.
Isakson would be a major vehicle for nationalizing the Georgia contest. If the GOP incumbent, at the top of the ballot, clears much beyond 60 percent, strategists figure then Democratic chances of winning the race for governor disappear.
Whether the candidate is Barnes, Baker, DuBose Porter or David Poythress.
And right now, the only Democrat in the Senate race is the unknown and unfunded R.J. Hadley.
By putting up an A-list candidate fluent in the language of jobs and the economy, who just happens to be African-American, Democrats will be taking a large step toward preventing an Isakson-driven avalanche.
And remember that no one anticipated the September ‘08 economic bust that forced a runoff between Saxby Chambliss and Jim Martin.
Point Two: Thurmond had been spoken of as a candidate for lieutenant governor. But Carol Porter, wife of the Democratic candidate for governor, jumped in first.
Arguably, Thurmond might have beaten Carol Porter, but at the cost of a divided Democratic electorate that still bears the scars of the Cathy Cox/Mark Taylor debacle.
Thurmond’s shift to the U.S. Senate race in essence hands Carol Porter the Democratic nomination for a post that has never gone to a woman. Carol Porter could be the highest-ranking woman in state government.
Which means the contest against Republican incumbent Casey Cagle is sure to generate interest through November.
Moreover, let’s suppose that DuBose Porter does not win the Democratic contest for governor. By assuring Carol Porter’s nomination for lieutenant governor, you guarantee that the House Democratic leader will remain engaged.
Point three: In the Democratic race for governor, Thurmond’s entrance as a U.S. Senate candidate is likely to benefit Barnes.
Baker, while he has differed with other African-Americans in the party over such volatile issues as Genarlow Wilson, has a legitimate claim on black voters. Barnes likewise has a claim on African-American voters, through his decision to change the ‘56 state flag.
But with Thurmond at the top of the state ballot, racial loyalty immediately becomes a lesser issue. And if Barnes is indeed the Democratic nominee, the chances of an African-American backlash are greatly lessened.
I’m sure there are other advantages/disadvantages. Feel free to add them below. But bottom line, if Thurmond joins the U.S. Senate race, then — win or lose — should any Democrat win a statewide contest in November, he’ll deserve a spot on the stage.
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Meanwhile, Larry Peterson of the Savannah Morning News had this over the weekend:
U.S. Rep. John Barrow’s campaign received $12,500 from health care interests on the day he said he’d vote against a major health care bill.
The March 19 donations were listed on the Savannah Democrat’s report to the Federal Election Commission for the first three months of the year.
Most of the money came from groups representing radiologists, gastroenterologists, pathologists and dentists, the report indicated.
Peterson included this observation from Charles Bullock, the University of Georgia political scientist:
“What a coincidence,” Bullock said, pausing for a few seconds. “I’m trying to find a way to say this delicately. … I suppose some people who had concerns about the bill may have wanted their concerns foremost in his mind.”
Democratic votes against Obama’s health care reform package have prompted a full-scale revolt in North Carolina, according to the Washington Post:
Now, some of Obama’s supporters are mounting a defiant strike against the president’s party. The nascent third party, North Carolina First, could endanger the Democratic congressional majority by siphoning votes from incumbent Democrats in November’s midterm election, potentially enabling Republican challengers to pick up the seats.
Organizers say they are so fed up with Democrats who did not support health-care reform that they simply do not care.
This morning, the Post also notes an Atlanta connection here:
Daniel Almond, a three-tour veteran of Iraq, is ready to “muster outside D.C.” on Monday with several dozen other self-proclaimed patriots, all of them armed. They intend to make history as the first people to take their guns to a demonstration in a national park, and the Virginia rally is deliberately being held just a few miles from the Capitol and the White House.
Almond plans to have his pistol loaded and openly carried, his rifle unloaded and slung to the rear, a bandoleer of magazines containing ammunition draped over his polo-shirted shoulder. The Atlanta area real estate agent organized the rally because he is upset about health-care reform, climate control, bank bailouts, drug laws and what he sees as President Obama’s insistence on and the Democratic Congress’s capitulation to a “totalitarian socialism” that tramples individual rights.
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