The candidate most likely to be elected governor next year is the one who can carry rural Georgia.
Odds favor the Republican. No surprise. Georgia is a red state.
Barack Obama made it close. Excluding Jimmy Carter who carried Georgia twice, Obama got a higher percentage here (47 percent) than any other Democratic presidential candidate has since 1964.
Obama carried 34 of Georgia’s 159 counties, but only one – Athens-Clarke County – where blacks comprise less than 30 percent of registered voters. The star-alignment for Obama was unique.
It’s inconceivable that any other candidate could come close to repeating the Obama effect. A Democrat who can’t turn out a phenomenal percentage of the black vote in the general election probably shouldn’t plunk down the qualifying fee to run for one of the top two statewide offices on the ballot in 2010, governor and U.S. senator. And yet one who runs too far left to get it is dog food in the general election in November.
Latest of the Democrats to announce are Attorney General Thurbert Baker and House Minority Leader DuBose Porter, a lawyer and newspaper editor.
Baker’s entry seriously complicates life for the three moderate whites who’ve announced or are being urged to announce, including Porter, former Adjutant General David Poythress and former Gov. Roy Barnes.
Blacks, who are likely to be energized by the prospect of following Obama’s success with the election of a black governor, are 30 percent of the registered voters and half of the Democratic primary base. In 2006, Baker got more votes than any other Democrat running statewide and more, even, than two Republicans who’ll be vying for governor, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Karen Handel. Only Gov. Sonny Perdue, School Superintendent Kathy Cox and Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, another Republican gubernatorial candidate, got more votes.
Baker’s a moderate who’s generally well liked. Assuming he’s able to resist the pressure that’s always on Democrats to veer left, he could emerge from the primary as a strong contender in November. The Democratic base is probably 41-43 percent. Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor got 38 percent against Perdue in 2006. Without Obama’s coattails, Jim Martin got 43 percent in a runoff last December against U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss.
Porter, Poythress and Barnes all have their strengths, too. Porter, as minority leader, has made the House Democratic caucus a more cohesive, focused group whose members are less likely to rush before TV cameras to blurt out rants. By the traditional gauge of candidate likability, the fishing standard, Porter will wear well. The “fishing standard” is “which of the people running would you actually like to take fishing?”
Barnes has the experience, the contacts and the ability to raise money, all important. Poythress has been adjutant general, secretary of state and commissioner of labor and was well-regarded in all.
Had Democrats been able to hold on to rural Georgia, they’d now be in control statewide. The 28-county metro area, which represented 57 percent of the vote last November, is trending Democratic. Obama won the region, 51-48, largely because he won Fulton, DeKalb and Clayton by almost 400,000 votes. Outside metro Atlanta, John McCain prevailed with 58 percent.
Any successful Democrat needs to be center-right in rural Georgia and capable of turning out a huge black vote in metro Atlanta. Liberal activists, including those in the General Assembly and in the pure, hard-core Democratic areas like DeKalb and Clayton, are trouble for their candidates. If they cut them some slack through the primary, their November chances improve considerably. Known liberals lose Georgia. Get them firmly on record as supporting the Obama agenda, for example, and they’re toast.
Republican gubernatorial candidates also need to be center-right in rural Georgia. It prefers Chamber of Commerce types who’ll not lunge sharply left or right. Sonny Perdue. Joe Frank Harris. George Busbee. Solid, dependable, predictable. No sudden moves. Gradualism. They carried Georgia for McCain, just as they put Perdue in the governor’s mansion in 2002.
While the bulk of the vote is in metro Atlanta and it is trending Democratic, it’s still pretty evenly split. It’s the rest of Georgia that picks winners.