You didn’t need a poll on Sunday night to see the terrain in both the Republican and Democratic debates for attorney general. You just had to watch.
Both contests received 30-minute airings on GPTV, courtesy of the Atlanta Press Club.
In the three-man Republican contest, the question is whether the late entry of state Sen. Preston Smith of Rome will push the race into a runoff.
By way of attacking him, both Smith and former federal prosecutor Max Wood of Macon conceded front-runner status to Sam Olens, the former Cobb County commission chairman.
Smith immediately showed off his endorsements by the National Rifle Association and Georgia Right to Life, asking Olens:
“Why aren’t you endorsed by those organizations?”
“You were a legislator and that gave you an advantage in regard to getting their endorsements. But I candidly think there’s little if any difference on those issues, because frankly we agree on them.”
But Smith trumped Olens with a you-ain’t-from-around-here assault:
“I’m a lifelong Republican and I’m a seventh-generation Georgian. You moved here from New Jersey, and you were a party official in the Democratic party. You were a treasurer. You were on Bill Clinton’s campaign staff.”
There are parts of north Georgia where New Jersey origins are still considered a felony. Grand juries have returned true bills on the charge – as Joe Pesci laid out in that stirring documentary, “My Cousin Vinny.”
But Smith concentrated on the Bill Clinton connection. He refreshed the accusation by demoting Olens from Clinton campaign staffer to membership on Clinton’s Cobb County steering committee.
“He’s made it up. There’s nothing else I can say. It’s absolutely untrue,” Olens said.
Smith has produced this February 1992 article from the Marietta Daily Journal, in which Olens – then a Democrat – is listed among “other members” of a Cobb chapter of a Clinton for president committee.
For his part, Wood rattled off a number of contributors to Olens’ treasury – who have also contributed to Democratic campaigns, and voted in Democratic primaries.
“If we want to take back the attorney general’s office this November, we better have both Republican and Democrat support.”
Wood rejoined with an analysis of the 2008 presidential contest. He first acknowledged that it wasn’t a crime to be a Democrat:
“That doesn’t mean they’re bad people. But we had a situation in 2008 in the presidential primary where Democrats helped select our nominee, John McCain, and it was a disastrous presidential election.
“I think Republicans should be worried about any Democratic activism in any Republican election.”
Come to think of it, Zell Miller did endorse McCain.
There is no possibility of a runoff on the Democratic side of the race for attorney general – making the contest just that much more bitter.
Ken Hodges, a former Dougherty County district attorney, declared attorney and four-term state lawmaker Rob Teilhet lacked the experience to be attorney general.
“Public records show that Mr. Teilhet has been to lunch with lobbyists more often than he’s been in court,” Hodges said. Neither has Teilhet argued cases before the Georgia Court of Appeals or the state Supreme Court.
Teilhet said his familiarity with key issues in the Legislature gives him a leg up. “It’s no accident that most of Georgia’s attorneys general come through the Georgia General Assembly,” he said.
In turn, Teilhet attacked Hodges’ standing in the prosecutorial community. GBI crime rates when up in Dougherty County while Hodges was prosecutor, he said. “Mr. Hodges has been a prosecutor. He just hasn’t been a very good one,” he said.
(The Hodges campaign later accused Teilhet of “cherry-picking” his stats.)
Hodges addressed the most sensitive issue in the Democratic race: A TV ad aired by Teilhet, in which the Columbus, Ga., mother of an unarmed black man shot and killed by a sheriff’s deputy criticizes the former prosecutor for failing to bring charges against the deputy.
“The death of Kenneth Walker was a tragedy, and my heart continues to be with the family. The fact that my opponent wants to exploit the family’s grief and use it for political purposes is, quite frankly, disgusting….
“Our office presented all of the evidence to a grand jury made up of 23 citizens of Muscogee County and they decided that no criminal action [took] place. Afterwards, the U.S. Department of Justice did its own investigation into this, and determined that there was no wrongdoing….
“Certainly you’re not going to please everyone, and we stand by the job that we did. And we always regret the tragic loss of Mr. Walker’s life.”
Mr. Hodges’ campaign is almost completely based on his experience as a prosecutor. Any discussion of that experience must include a discussion of the Walker case, where he forgot to swear in a witness, didn’t present key witnesses, didn’t request an indictment from the grand jury at the end of the proceeding – and then when these things came to light, he refused to reopen the case. And he never gave Emily Walker an explanation.”
In turn, Hodges noted Teilhet’s employment as an attorney for U.S. Southeastern Insurance, a company now under criminal investigation by the state insurance commissioner’s office. (This was the company that revealed the Republican breach between Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine and U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland.)
Teilhet said he was in and out of the company before any of the bad stuff happened.
Also this weekend, the Hodges campaign was making a great effort to point other journalist to a piece by Jim Walls of Atlanta Unfiltered which quoted former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young – again — as saying that has endorsed both Hodges and Teilhet in the Democratic contest:
Teilhet, whose campaign received a $200 check from Young in May, this week accused Hodges of lying about receiving an endorsement from the former U.N. endorsement.
Young said he had already expressed his support for Hodges when he met with Teilhet, who impressed him with his thoughtfulness. “I said, ‘I’ve already endorsed Hodges. What I’ll do to balance it is give you a check.’” he said.
So, does Young have a problem with Hodges claiming his endorsement?
“I think he has that right,” Young said. “I would not complain about that.”
Meanwhile, the Democratic and Republican candidates for governor – the top four on each side – met in the studios of WAGA-TV for a debate that aired Sunday evening.
The Democratic candidates were a careful lot – they hewed to party chairman Jane Kidd’s demand that the final days of the July 20 primary be conducted with civility.
Shannon McCaffery with the Associated Press had this summary:
Former Attorney General Mike Bowers — a backer of Oxendine rival Karen Handel — told the Atlanta Journal-Constitutiuon that he conducted a probe and referred findings to the U.S. attorney. No charges were ever filed.
Oxendine fired back at Bowers at Sunday’s debate, sponsored by WAGA-TV in Atlanta, saying Bowers “clearly abused his power because when he referred to a legitimate agency nothing ever happened.”
Oxendine denied any wrongdoing and said he was being attacked as the presumed front runner in the July 20 primary.
All four of the leading Republicans defended themselves over questions about ethics.
Nathan Deal said a congressional probe looking into his auto salvage business dealings with the state was politically motivated.
“Not until I was running for governor did anyone suggest anything of this nature,” the Gainesville Republican said.
Eric Johnson, former state senator from Savannah, defended his dismissal of an ethics complaint against former Speaker Glenn Richardson, who ultimately resigned after allegations of an affair with a lobbyist.
“If we knew then what we knew now we would have gone after Speaker Richardson,” Johnson said.
Rival campaigns are pointing to these paragraphs from the AP story:
Former Secretary of State Karen Handel continued to insist that she was not a member of the Log Cabin Republicans despite claims by a former leader of the group that she was.
“Absolutely not,” Handel said. She allowed Sunday night that she did write a check to the gay Republican group “as a sponsorship” but that did not mean she was a member. A spokesman had earlier suggested the check was not Handel’s.
Republican incumbent Brian Kemp is up with his first ad in the primary contest for secretary of state:
The independent campaign of state School Superintendent Brady Bryant says it has more than 20,000 signatures toward his quest for enough signatures to be placed on the November ballot.
Some 44,000 are needed by noon tomorrow.
His campaign offices at Northlake Mall will stay open for the next 28 hours to process the petitions.