As the U.S. presidential candidates race through their final few weeks of campaigning before the Nov. 4 election, state officials already have their sights set on the 2010 governor race.
Three familiar Georgians, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, state insurance commissioner John Oxendine and former Georgia National Guard Cmdr. Lt. Gen. (Ret.) David Poythress, have made public their intentions to succeed Gov. Sonny Perdue, who will be ineligible to run again.
Dr. Charles Bullock, a University of Georgia professor, said the early bids are out of character for state gubernatorial hopefuls.
“Usually bids are not made until after the legislative session,” Bullock said.
He thinks the prematurely announced candidacies are imitations of the national presidential race.
“The behavior is now beginning to migrate to the state level,” Bullock said. “Part of what’s motivating is the desire to get the fundraising effort underway.”
He said it takes at least $10 million for anyone to successfully campaign for governor.
Aside from campaign funds, Bullock said candidates are competing for endorsements.
“Once one candidate (announces), it puts pressure on others to get in,” Bullock said.
Dr. Erik Brooks, a Georgia Southern University professor, said the race is wide open, since there won’t be an incumbent.
“When Sen. Johnny Isakson decided not to run for governor, the race opened even wider,” Brooks said.
He thinks Cagle and Oxendine will do well, considering their previous public service experience and name recognition.
And Cagle’s announcement did not surprise Bullock.
“Lieutenant governors almost always run,” he said. “That’s standard.”
But with Poythress currently the only Democrat in the running, Brooks thinks he will have a difficult time.
“It seems as if the Democratic base is shrinking in Georgia,” Brooks said.
Poythress, a former secretary of state and labor commissioner, ran for governor in 1998.
“He had some statewide experience, but would be out (of state political leadership) 10 years,” Bullock said. “It’s going to be harder for him to generate the kind of visibility.”
Brooks thinks a Democrat has a chance as long as they’re able to connect with the people.
Bullock, who noted the bulk of the state’s voters reside in metro Atlanta, said a serious candidate might focus on transportation; however, Brooks thinks Georgians want a leader who will be able to bridge the gap between the urban and rural parts of the state.
“This animosity between the urban and rural areas has been deep seated and continues until this day,” Brooks said. “This animosity reared its head a few years ago with the water shortage issue.”
Both professors agreed education and the economy would be big issues in the race.
“The top three issues that most Georgians are concerned with are the economy, the economy and the economy,” Brooks said. “The next governor must be empathic to the needs of the middle class and poor who have taken a terrible blow with the poor economy.”
Bullock cited former Gov. Zell Miller, who successfully implemented Georgia’s HOPE scholarship program.
“If they think of something like this, it would help,” Bullock said.
Both Bullock and Brooks also predict the coming year will draw out more candidates from both sides.
According to Bullock, who said he expects to see more Republicans, including a member of Congress, possibilities include U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Savannah, and House Majority Leader Jerry Keen, R-St. Simons Island.
Brooks is counting on candidacy announcements from Democrat Attorney General Thurbert Baker, Sen. Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, and U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall, also a Democrat.
Given the recent attention to the political careers of Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, and Republican Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Brooks thinks a woman governor is possible in Georgia. He mentioned Secretary of State Karen Handel, Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin and State Superintendent Kathy Cox as a possible contenders.
Whoever is the next governor, Brooks thinks he or she will need to carry a hefty war chest and employ a “policy wonk, public relations guru and purveyor of promise.”
“More than likely, the Republicans will continue to dominate Georgia politics for the foreseeable future,” Brooks said.
“I’d be really surprised not to see a Republican governor in 2010,” Bullock agreed.
Gov. Perdue was the state’s first Republican governor in more than 100 years when he took office in 2002.