The new, improved John Oxendine campaign

Republican candidate for governor John Oxendine works a Memorial Day crowd in Dacula. Vino Wong, vwong@ajc.com

Republican candidate for governor John Oxendine works a Memorial Day crowd in Dacula. Vino Wong, vwong@ajc.com

No one speaks of it — in the way that no one takes note of the dog that doesn’t bark or the child who doesn’t whine.

But one of the biggest changes in the Republican race for governor in the past three months has been the quiet transformation of the John Oxendine campaign.

This time last year, the state insurance commissioner was blithely tweeting his way across Georgia, desperate to engage voters on any topic, whether high or low.

“We just finished the nursery for baby Jake,” the Ox tapped out. “The room is Confederate gray. Reminds me of why I am running. …”

Though it may live elsewhere on the Internet, the hospital room video made only hours after baby Jake’s delivery — which featured Oxendine again making the connection to his campaign — no longer has a spot on the candidate’s YouTube channel.

More important, the campaign’s loud fulminations against media inquiries into Oxendine’s background have given way to controlled, measured responses. And, often, well-timed silence.

The change coincides with a March overhaul. Campaign manager Stephen Puetz, who had been political director of the Tom Foley gubernatorial campaign, was brought in from Connecticut.

Nathan Deal

Nathan Deal

Jeff Roe, who ran turnout for Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign in ‘08 throughout much of the South, including Georgia, was hired as chief strategist.

“We’ve brought in some of the top-notch staff from around the country,” Oxendine said recently. “I’m humble enough to say that I as an individual have grown and seasoned. People should always grow and improve.”

In other words, Oxendine has begun behaving like the front-runner he has been for the past 18 months.

“We’re going to try to run an adult campaign and not sit there and take jabs at other Republicans, tweet about other Republicans,” he said. “If there’s an issue, we’re going to comment on it. We’re not going to take cheap shots.”

Though they are reluctant to speak about it publicly, key supporters of Oxendine’s rivals for the GOP nomination have noticed the new discipline. And in backrooms across the state, they have begun to sound alarms.

Eric Johnson

Eric Johnson

The assumption has been that despite Oxendine’s advantages — a large cash lead over two of his three major rivals and a consistent (though shrinking) lead in polls — ethical baggage would doom him in an August runoff.

Specifically, the suitcases include some questionable campaign fund-raising and more than close relationships with the executives of insurance companies he now is in charge of regulating.

The State Ethics Commission has scheduled a June 24 hearing — less than a month before the primary — to examine $120,000 in donations made to Oxendine’s campaign by 10 Alabama political action committees.

The amount was 10 times the legal limit.

But efforts that could delay the hearing are already under way. Even if it is held as scheduled, Oxendine so far has boasted a surface that, if not Teflon, is at least stain-resistant.

khandel2

“Despite months of vetting, [Oxendine’s] polling position has not dropped measurably, further showing our campaign’s staying power,” reads a campaign memo aimed at supporters — and possible contributors who might be willing to hedge their bets.

But Oxendine’s inevitability is not accepted universally.

Heath Garrett, a Republican political strategist closely associated with U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, argues that July 20 could pair any of four Republicans in a runoff: Oxendine, former U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal, former state Sen. Eric Johnson of Savannah and former Secretary of State Karen Handel.

None in the quartet, Garrett said, has developed the three ingredients — money, message and geographical base — in a strong enough combination to eclipse the other three in the contest.

A single message — boosting a candidate or tearing the other guy down — costs $600,000 in TV ads to be effective. That could limit even the richest Republican campaign to two or three complete thoughts.

“A message isn’t effective until a candidate puts real resources behind it,” Garrett said.

Oxendine isn’t the only candidate gearing up for a tightening, low-budget race.

Deal’s campaign, like that of Oxendine, has undergone something of a makeover this spring. As measured by his March 31 report, fund-raising hasn’t been stellar. But a 9th Congressional District primary — suddenly extended by GOP front-runner Tom Graves’ financial problems — could boost turnout in Deal’s native North Georgia.

Handel, while the weakest fund-raiser in the quartet, has a strong base in metro Atlanta’s northern suburbs. And her decision this week to confront Georgia Right to Life over restrictions demanded by the anti-abortion group on in vitro fertilization could distinguish her among voters, especially among women.

Hailing from the coast, Johnson, the former leader of the state Senate, may have the softest geographic base. But he is second only to Oxendine in fund-raising, putting him in the best position to challenge the state insurance commissioner on television.

Johnson predicted a post-July Fourth air war would put him in the runoff — with Oxendine.

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78 comments Add your comment

Rafe Hollister

June 5th, 2010
4:26 pm

As a strong conservative this group of candidates fails to excite me one bit. As usual I will be voting for the lesser of the four evils.

No Ox Noo Raw Deal, Nooo Linger Longer Johnson Noooo King Roy

June 5th, 2010
4:31 pm

What a mess…

The Name Says It All

Bubba

June 5th, 2010
4:32 pm

If Georgia could survive four years with Lester Maddox as Governor, and survive (barely) eight years of Sonny Perdon’t, there is a slim chance we can survive having one of these clowns in the office.

Jodie

June 5th, 2010
4:33 pm

The only transformation in the Ox campaign has been in his rapidly declining poll numbers.

Roy Barnes is Oxendine’s biggest fan.

Paulg

June 5th, 2010
4:35 pm

Saw Oxendine at a debate in Gwinnett 2 weeks ago. Did not come accross a very bright. Some of his answers were childish and down right stupid. I have not voted for a Democrat in 16 years. But if he or Handel is the nominee, I most certainly will…

Base

June 5th, 2010
4:43 pm

They are all crooks!

Al Sharpton

June 5th, 2010
5:00 pm

The Ox Man is a joke.
He can’t win because he is a nut job. Just like King Roy will never win….unless they face each other…then Georgia loses.

Fool Me Once

June 5th, 2010
5:04 pm

Every candidate but one is a former D. Ask yourself, do you want another Sonnyboy on West Paces Ferry? Only Mr. Johnson is a lifetime Repub and conservative.

No more ReRuns.

steve

June 5th, 2010
5:36 pm

Well we know who the AJC wants Roy Barnes to face so Roy can go back in….

[...] Jim Galloway’s latest post on his site (which may well be a print edition article, from the style of it) was about how [...]

Jeff

June 5th, 2010
6:01 pm

Paulg (and others)

If the winner of your Party’s election is someone you can’t vote for, may I respectfully present John Monds to you? By voting Monds, you could vote against the nominee you despise while ALSO voting against the other Party that you so desperately don’t want to vote for.

North Georgia Voter

June 5th, 2010
6:02 pm

I vote for the person over party and there are some serious weaknesses with this field of candidates. I just cannot bring myself to vote for the sell-out, dumb Ox, the ethically challenged Nathan Deal, Karen “no education” Handel who can’t raise the $$ needed to run, the weak and ethically challenged Eric Johnson. I will therefore vote for someone else (which means not a Republican I suppose).

North Georgia Voter

June 5th, 2010
6:06 pm

Jeff- Who is John Monds? I follow politics closely and have never heard of this guy. Why should I waste my vote on someone nobody knows? The next Governor will either be Roy Barnes or one of these very weak GOP candidates. That’s your choice. Period.

bart

June 5th, 2010
6:06 pm

Hey, Base, you are so right! They are, indeed, all crooks. What a sad commentarty on the state of politics in our great state. Oxendine and Deal are the worst of the lot, and in addition to being crooks, they are not very smart.

Bludgeon & Skewer

June 5th, 2010
6:51 pm

Greetings All,

It’s wonderful Chamber of Commerce kind of day when you run into political thread about the governor’s race in Georgia that mentions “lesser of 4 evils”, “wasted vote” and a request for information on Libertarian Candidate for Governor John Monds.

Commenter Jeff has kindly provided a link to John Monds website in his post so there’s no need to duplicate it here. As far as reasons to cast your ballot for a Libertarian this fall as opposed to your democrat or republican choice, the answer lies in the other responses in this thread. Will you “waste your vote” on a politician you do not trust? Will you settle for the “Lesser of 4 evils” and barter away more of your liberty to stay within your political brand?

Or will you cast your ballot for Smaller Government, Lower Taxes and More Freedom? The choice is a simple one if you think it through. I urge you all to take a look at Libertarian John Monds and consider the fact that he is the only candidate in the Governors race that does not have any ethical dilemmas, any shady deals or questionable relationships. He is an honest and trustworthy man and will make a great Governor.

Vote for Smaller Government, Lower Taxes and More Freedom! Vote for Libertarian John Monds for Governor!

Sam ( The Cool 1 )

June 5th, 2010
7:19 pm

My, My, My. What would The Cisco Kid and Poncho think about all of this? I wonder who they vote for. Now there is an endorsement!

Boots

June 5th, 2010
7:39 pm

It’s kinda like choosing the tallest “midget” (or little person or dwarf or whatever the politically correct term is).

Ox has an ethics investigation. Deal fled Washington on the eve of an ethics investigation. Handel has a GED. And, Johnson was the leader of a dysfunctional senate.

If this is the best the GOP can do they don’t deserve to win.

Nunya Business

June 5th, 2010
8:56 pm

Didn’t OXYCONTIN have a drug problem several years ago? WAS IT SIMILAR TO RUSH SLIMBAUGH’S? Yeah that’s who we need running this state.

tom H

June 5th, 2010
9:13 pm

I’m a 79 year old independent who has over the years voted republican and democrat. After the past 8 years, I’ll be voting democrat this time, very likely for Barnes. I don’t buy into the “too liberal for georgia” crap that is tossed about by republicans who really have no plan for progress in this state.

Puddin Tain

June 5th, 2010
9:28 pm

I think we can all agree that Georgia is in a governor slump. It’s been going on for years and years, and doesn’t look to get any better. The question is: Why?

GOPActivist

June 5th, 2010
9:40 pm

I think Oxendine’s reinvention may get him into the runoff, but in a one on one match up, he goes down.

Bobby Anthony

June 5th, 2010
10:07 pm

There are some respectable Democrats besides Barnes.

Rafe Hollister

June 5th, 2010
10:45 pm

If you are going to vote Libertarian, you are just casting a vote for Rerun Roy, another crook. Republicans, independent thinkers, sick of the choices may vote for the Libertarian, but you can bet your bibby that the block voting Dems will stick with whatever crook they nominate.

I would vote for David Poythress, but he is too honest to ever have a change against Rerun Roy in the primary.

Rafe Hollister

June 5th, 2010
10:46 pm

CHANCE vice change, above

Wounded Warrior

June 6th, 2010
12:02 am

SURPRISED OX DIDNT SHOOT SOMEONE; HE DOESNT NEED ANY HUNTING LICENSE. GONNA VOTE DEMOCRAT 1ST TIME IN MY LIFE, AGAINST KING ROY.

Johnson is the real Republican

June 6th, 2010
12:25 am

The only choice for Republicans is Johnson. Why nominate someone that we know will have ethics problems or can’t fundraise? Johnson will be a consistent conservative.

Will Jones - Atlanta Jeffersonian Exegesis

June 6th, 2010
12:36 am

Rockefeller’s CFR and Roman Catholic “Big Oil have their hooks into the Libertarian Party…which is essentially “Republicans” who want to be “out of the closet” and legalize pot.

DuBose Porter for governor, and his “Georgia Peach”/refinement-and-brains wife for Lt. Gov.

May G-d’s grace pour out on Georgia.

Jones

June 6th, 2010
2:25 am

respectable Democrats=oxymoron

Bug

June 6th, 2010
4:43 am

I will be voting for Ray Boyd and independant who laid down 2 million of his own money and will NOT accept any funds from anyone.

Jeff

June 6th, 2010
5:13 am

Johnson@1225:

The primary reason I couldn’t support Johnson? He has a history that is simply too shady – for example, the hundreds of thousands of dollars of State money his firm got and didn’t disclose.

Intruder

June 6th, 2010
7:33 am

Bubba, I’ve got some news for you. Lester Maddoc ended his term as governor with less wealth than when he was sworn into that office, telling me that he did not use that position to line his own pockets. The media never tells you that he was responsible for the hiring of more minorities by state government than any other governor before or since him. Now, go back to your criticisms and enlighten us all.

Road Scholar

June 6th, 2010
7:58 am

“We just finished the nursery for baby Jake,” the Ox tapped out. “The room is Confederate gray. Reminds me of why I am running. …”

What? Is he running for the children? Or is he running for the Confederacy?

He can change his staff all he wants, but the main problem he has is the candidate!

No Ox Noo Raw Deal, Nooo Linger Longer Johnson Noooo King Roy

June 6th, 2010
8:12 am

Lester Maddox was the only HONEST Georgia Governor in my lifetime.

Bill

June 6th, 2010
8:17 am

Rafe,
Much to my surprise, you and I agree on something. I am a lifelong Democrat. I have occasionally voted for republicans. I also find the candidacy of David Poythress interesting.

I would take Roy Barnes over any of this group of republicans, but I would love to see Barnes get a serious challenge from someone like Poythress.

Will Jones - Atlanta Jeffersonian Exegesis

June 6th, 2010
8:33 am

Yeah, Bozo the Clown Oxendine’s a real “Johnny Reb,” wrecking the state’s cars and trying to get over on the rest of us by illegally running his lights and siren to get to a hot date between wives…and what an “independent” and “righteous” streak he showed taking illegal Big Insurance campaign contributions from Alabama. He must have a real perverse notion of “Southern Man” getting a woman to pop out political props and have the People of Georgia continue to pick up the tab while he sells us “down the river” so transparently.

Knowing what the Cross of St. Andrew stood for on the CBF and that Jews came from all over the world to fight and die on the side of the Confederacy because they knew Rome/Amalek had taken over the North and was determined to wipe-out the Jeffersonian, Protestant, Jew-loving South, which was empty of Roman Catholics but in Savannah, Charleston and Mobile, it’s hard to see a Lumbee, carpetbagging fool prancing around in “sheep’s clothing” gain success because he’s a member in good-standing of the Roman Anti-Christ’s “Fifth Column’s” political front’s farm team in Georgia – the Gay Old Pervert party, yet supporting treason by sectarian faction against America.

White, Black, Jew, and Gentile built Our Nation, together. Let’s bring Georgia back into the lead where we belong by electing as governor someone whose life and conduct prove him to be a man worthy of respect: DuBose Porter, and ice that cake with his bride as Lt. Gov.. It’ll give America something great to talk about…GEORGIA!

Just Nasty & Mean

June 6th, 2010
9:09 am

Ohh you DemocRats just can’t stand the fact we have several top candidates for Governor, and all you have is—Roy boy–the same guy we FIRED for non-performance for the 1st time since the Civil War. Sure, they all have some warts, but your leading candidate is a sleazebag lawyer that did nothing but greatly enrich himself after being kicked out as governor.

I mean–seriously–how bad do you have to be to be the 1st fired in 150 years!! THAT is Roy Barnes’ legacy–and your likely candidate.

Get serious…..:-)

Buzz G

June 6th, 2010
9:25 am

I sent all candidates (Republican and Democrat) an e-mail requesting some details on their views of correct State of Georgia handling of illegal immigrants. John Oxendine was the only candidate of either party who responded. And his response was clear and professional. He has my vote. I have lived in this house 21 years, and this is the first time I have ever allowed a sign in my yard. Go John, go.

tomkat1

June 6th, 2010
9:29 am

It will be big insurance’s dog, Oxendine, vs. big banking’s dog, Barnes in the general election dogfight. Wish we had someone to represent the rest of the people.

dz01

June 6th, 2010
10:26 am

Son,s bedroom painted in confederate gray that reminds him of what?????????

Aquagirl

June 6th, 2010
11:25 am

People who knowingly vote for “lesser of the evils” while saying they don’t want to throw their vote away should stay the h3ll out of the voting booth. If voting for someone who sucks isn’t throwing your vote away, what is, you sheeple?

No Street Spam

June 6th, 2010
11:32 am

Oxendine has let the insurance companies control the insurance commission. If you’ve ever made a complaint to the consumer division, you know you will only get a reply back stating the insurance company’s LEGAL position. The consumer ‘investigators’ never look into the reality of your complaint or offer any help. There is never any followup. They take the side of the insurance company and …end of story. Oxendine cozies up to big business, not the consumer or taxpayer.

uknowme

June 6th, 2010
11:34 am

Republican voters fall in line…..Democrat voters fall in love….Both are basically the same

Ken

June 6th, 2010
11:57 am

I went to his office 6 years ago with a firestopping concern in schools and hospitals.
Completely blew me off
His only concern is big business
Not small business. Not regular folks. At one time when he first became Insurance Commissionar I liked him but he quickly fell be the way side
I would never ever vote for him again.

PN

June 6th, 2010
11:58 am

Eric Johnson is getting his millions in brokered campaign donations from the Reynolds campaign finance machine. The same folks he tried to give Jekyll Island State Park to.

Donna S

June 6th, 2010
12:09 pm

RAY MCBERRY, the only constitutional and statesman with a plan for Georgia…move away from Federal govt and run our state! Any vote for anyone already in the administration in any area is a vote for the same. I am tired of the same ol same ol, good ol boy network! Ray is the only way to go!

bbdawg

June 6th, 2010
12:47 pm

To the writer who thinks that David Poythress can’t beat Roy in the primary, I heartily disagree. Once DP gets in the primary serious money will flow to help him counter Roy’s “deep pockets”. DP’s major problem is the AJC’s “conceding of the Demo nomination to Barnes”. (They clain they are not taking any sides-but wonder what a word search of names over the past two years will show). Roy’s extra benefit from the AJC will be negated when people see DP can win. Then the people who want to see GA moving again will elect him in Nov. Roy’s money comes in the thousand’s and millions, while David’s comes in the form of tens and hundreds. But those are votes too. DP will not have to pay everybody off with political favors and maybe we can get some of our state gov working again. I want the Board of Regents cleaned up and I think he is the only possibility for doing that.

Red

June 6th, 2010
1:29 pm

It’s a shame we have candidates who have to rely on outsiders to craft an image and message for them. None of them can offer leadership themselves. When you rely on high dollar strategists to pull some “Extreme Makeover – Political Edition” they are nothing but cookie cutter candidates. They rely on focus groups to tell them what to speak and campaign on – they cannot do that for themselves. They rely on someone else to tell them how to dress, words to use, places to be seen at, etc. We are not electing a true leader but merely some Doctor Frankenstein creation – it’s the Backstreet Boys of politics. No wonder we get garbage once they are in office. The well crafted image comes off and we’re left with shallow and hollow…

Bobby Anthony

June 6th, 2010
3:17 pm

I plan to vote for Poythress and it may shock some of you people in Atlanta, but I have heard a lot of people in my area state they will vote for Poythress.

Gayle

June 6th, 2010
3:37 pm

They can fumble around and grasp at straws all they want, Ray McBerry is in it to Win and I’m right there behind him.

LMAO @ Oxendine

June 6th, 2010
4:31 pm

The only thing that could improve Oxendine’s Campaign is if they found a New Candidate…to hell with Ox!!!