Walter Jones

Democrats hope a fuller slate will spark enthusiasm

In the space of a few days, Democrats gained a candidate for governor, lieutenant governor and superintendent, adding to what they hope will be an unblemished Senate nominee to become a unified ticket.

Jason Carter's decision to run for governor and his ability to convince Connie Stokes to switch from that race to lieutenant governor frees both of them to run unopposed for the nominations -- at least so far. And Tuesday, Alisha Thomas Morgan, an Austell legislator, will announce she's running for superintendent of schools.

They're joining the three Democrats running for the U.S. Senate, Georgia's only other open statewide seat besides superintendent. Most observers expect that one candidate, Michelle Nunn, will easily outdistance the other two because of her family's political connections and her demonstrated ability to raise a boatload of money.

Carter should also be able to use family political connections to raise a lot of money.

With the top two names on the ticket able to bring considerable resources statewide, Democrats are feeling more optimistic about their ability to generate enthusiasm that will translate into turnout.

'Georgia has an opportunity for a fresh start and now has fresh ideas for the future at the top of the ticket,' said Democratic Party of Georgia Chairman DuBose Porter in a statement to supporters.

The fact that Carter, age 38, and Nunn, age 47, will be considerably younger than the likely GOP nominees plays into that 'fresh ideas' scenario as they try to convince voters that the Republicans' 10 years in control of state government has been long enough.

Both will likely attract political consultants experienced in the Obama campaign's sophisticated targeting techniques. Which means much of their advertising will be almost invisible to people outside the demographics of swing voters, namely the young, female, single and minority.

Demographically speaking, Georgia's electorate still favors Republicans, but Democrats feel that charismatic candidates can make up the difference. The fact that two Republicans are also challenging Deal contributed to Carter's decision.

Although polls show Deal to be very popular within his own party, the challengers, Superintendent John Barge and Dalton Mayor David Pennington, will be attacking the governor and softening him up for Carter's barbs. Barge will hammer away on education and Pennington on the economy.

So what was the first statement out of Carter's mouth in an interview with Morris News?

'People in this state are frustrated with the state of our education system, and they are frustrated that our economy isn't working for the middle class,' he said Thursday before filing paperwork as a candidate and beginning the assaults.

The next day, Deal aired his first ad, which focused on industrial recruitment. No doubt, education-related ads are in the pipeline.

Carter won't give up his seat in the state Senate in order to bypass the prohibition on fundraising during the legislative session. That shows he's confident he'll be able to make up the financial head start Deal already enjoys, and it shows he intends to use the Senate to blast Deal in hopes of getting media attention he would lose by leaving the legislature.

He'll likely get plenty of help from fellow Democratic legislators, even those who have worked with Deal and the Republicans in the past.

The Georgia Republican Party wasted no time rallying around its man as well. To play the role of Deal's surrogate hatchet man, it issued a statement within moments of Carter's official announcement.

'Now is not the time for handpicked, Atlanta liberals and the failed policies of the Democratic Party. We must continue to move Georgia forward, and it's abundantly clear that outof- touch progressives like Michelle Nunn and Senator Jason Carter are incapable of doing that.'

The reference to 'failed policies' is the first effort to tie Carter to his grandfather's presidency. While Jimmy Carter easily carried Georgia in his election and unsuccessful reelection bid, Republicans consider him a failed president.

Jason Carter isn't oblivious to that view.

'I sometimes hear partisan people saying the same things about him, but it rare that I meet somebody who doesn't think he is a good man,' the grandson said, adding that he wants to frame the election around his own ideas for the future.

And so, the battle lines are drawn. It's going to be a noisy 12 months.

(Walter Jones is the Atlanta bureau chief for Morris News and has covered Georgia politics since 1998.)

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