Local parties eyeing governor's race

By Michael Davis

With more than a year to go in the race for the governor's seat, millions of dollars have already been raised and political party organizers in the Southern Crescent are gearing up for a protracted season.

Campaign personnel for the first Republican governor since Reconstruction said earlier this week Sonny Perdue is lugging more than $7 million behind him. Friday night was the deadline to file campaign contribution disclosures.

But while he already has nearly twice the cash he had when he unseated Democrat Roy Barnes in 2002, one expert said the cash will be needed to fund a more traditional campaign this time around.

"A lot of the people that elected Sonny Perdue were voting against Roy Barnes," said Michael Binford, an associate professor of political science at Georgia State University.

Binford said it was easier for Perdue to mobilize groups of voters alienated by Barnes, and didn't cost a lot. Perdue's campaign total came up to $3.6 million that year.

"This time, I think Sonny Perdue has to run a more traditional campaign, and that's going to take a lot of money," Binford said.

Henry County is a traditional GOP stronghold. All six county commissioners ran as Republicans, and President Bush took 66 percent of the vote in the 2004 election. But still, Henry party chairman Charles Mobley is concerned that Democrats could be gaining a foothold, pointing out Republican votes were stronger in 2000, and several state legislators who represent Henry are Democrats, though only one lives within the county.`

"I think the governor's race is going to be very important to us and we're in the midst of organizing every precinct and getting them in shape for the 2006 race," Mobley said. "You've got to get it done now so that when 2006 comes around, you'll be well prepared."

Clayton County's majority-Democrat voting base will likely mean Perdue will have a tough time making inroads into the county. In November, Clayton voted less than 30 percent GOP.

"At one time, the Republican party was the strongest party in the county," said Wanda Tschudy, vice-chairwoman of the Clayton County Republican Party. "We've lost a lot of people that would be leaning Republican voters," she said.

Democratic Primary

In the Democratic primary, both announced candidates, Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, and Secretary of State Cathy Cox, are well known, and expected to play well with their rural Georgia backgrounds.

They are, however, going to have to pay most of their attention to urban and suburban areas, GSU's Binford said.

But if the Democratic primary is nasty, it may hurt them in the general election.

"What really is going to be telling about the Democrats is not really so much who the winner is, but how he or she wins," Binford said. If the candidates attack each other too heavily, "it's easier for the Republicans to keep beating on them," he said.

Henry GOP's Mobley agreed. "If it gets to be a nasty race, it could help us, especially if they spend all of their money getting out of the primary," he said.

But Democrats aren't looking for a hot-tempered primary.

"I really don't think that will happen, I really don't see that. Both of the candidates are well respected," said Clayton County Democratic Party Chairwoman Elizabeth G. Armstrong. "This race will be given to the individual or individuals who can effectively get out to the grass roots."

Henry Democratic Party Interim Vice Chairman Kenyatta Bush thinks the Democratic candidates have a strong chance of picking up votes in Henry, and notes both Cox and Taylor have visited the county in recent months.

"Both of the candidates have the ability to cross over and both of them have the ability to appeal to moderate Republicans," Bush said.

Lt. Gov.'s race

But while the Democrats are duking it out for their party's nomination for governor, the race first out of the blocks for lieutenant governor is between two Republicans, both of who could play well in Henry.

Republican Sen. Casey Cagle, of Gainesville, recently visited the Henry GOP, and Mobley said he hoped former Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed would visit soon.

Reed has been caught up in controversy over his handling of money used in anti-gambling efforts while he was head of the coalition.

Greg Hecht, a Jonesboro attorney, has also made the rounds following his announcement he would run for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor.

Other candidates who have filed intents to seek campaign contributions in the lieutenant governor's race are: Elbert Arthur Bartell (I) and James F. Martin (D).

Also in the governor's race are Garrett Michael Hayes (L), John Walter Dashler (I) and Matthew Jamison (I).

The Associated Press contributed to this report.