Published Wednesday, July 04, 2012
The top song on the Billboard country chart this month 31 years ago describes what’s going on in many GOP primaries across the state this summer.
Barbara Mandrell’s hit, “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool,” was a response to a fad that included the movie “Urban Cowboy” and a vice president from Texas who professed to keep his bedside radio tuned to country-and-western stations. Twentysomethings from the suburbs with blow-dried hair were learning to two step in converted discos. And a flurry of new performers featured squealing guitars and thumping rhythms that seemed more like rock and roll to traditionalists used to Porter Wagoner and George Jones.
Mandrell, with her variety television show on NBC and success crossing over to the adult-contemporary market, may have recorded the song to address her own critics who charged she wasn’t “country enough.”
Well, in Georgia politics, suddenly it’s cool to be a Republican. So much so, that in multiple counties all of the candidates qualified to run under the GOP standard, including dozens of incumbents who switched parties.
Considering elections are won by attracting large numbers, Republicans might be expected to welcome the newcomers with open arms. Their hesitation comes from fears of infiltration by the insincere.
Stalwarts even have a quaint name for those who get elected but don’t always hew the party line in Congress or the legislature, RINOs for Republican In Name Only.
Accusations of false-flag candidacies are popping up regularly this summer.
Here are just a few examples, starting with the only two statewide contests.
Pam Davidson endorsed the Democrat after she lost the 2008 GOP nomination for Public Service Commission to Lauren “Bubba” McDonald, the eventual winner and a former Democratic elected official. Now, she’s running for a different seat on the commission, and her bona fides are being questioned by the incumbent Stan Wise she is trying to unseat.
In the other PSC race this year, Matt Reid is running for the GOP nomination against incumbent Chuck Eaton. As Eaton’s campaign consultant Todd Rehm notes on his blog Georgia Pundit, Reid has voted consistently in Democratic primaries for the last 12 years and contributed to Barack Obama’s campaign.
“I believe that Georgia Republicans will think that the answer to our economic problems is not a liberal Democrat cross-dressing as a Republican who wants to get into office and push a radical Obama green agenda that costs ratepayers and businesses in Georgia more money every month,” Rehm wrote.
Similar charges echo across the 12th congressional district where four people are contending for the chance to face Democratic incumbent John Barrow after redistricting reduced his base. Two of the four, Wright McLeod and Rick Allen, acknowledged voting repeatedly in the other party’s primaries but say that doesn’t make them a turncoat.
“I live in Richmond County which is primarily a Democratic county,” McLeod told Georgia Public Broadcasting. “If you want your vote to be heard, then there are times when you have to vote in the Democratic primary.”
Of course, that doesn’t explain why he voted in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary.
Both also contributed to Democrats. McLeod contributed to a Democrat, a classmate from law school, Rob Teilhet, who ran unsuccessfully for attorney general.
The issue also comes up in legislative races. For example, in Athens, former Democrat Rep. Doug McKillip is facing Regina Quick in the GOP primary in a district designed for a Republican. Even though Democratic leaders publicly targeted him, they couldn’t recruit anyone to challenge him. So now, many Democrats, like Athens Mayor Nancy Denson, are contributing to Quick as are liberal women’s groups, raising the question of “who’s the real Republican in this race?”
Even the Republican’s presumptive presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, voted in Democratic primaries and spent the last year defending his GOP credentials.
Obviously, Republicans know the reproductive rate of their traditional members wasn’t going to make them a majority just with voters born into the party. But partisan pedigree becomes an issue because the traditional party aims of low taxes and minimal regulation can be thwarted if they elect people with different priorities.
That’s why so many candidates are singing their own versions of Mandrell’s song, claiming to have been Republican when Republican wasn’t cool.
(Walter Jones is the bureau chief for the Morris News Service in Atlanta.)