I consider Charlie Bishop a friend. I managed his election four years ago to the top spot in the county. Under his leadership, Bibb County has seen an increase in jobs and a stabilized financial picture. As a political strategist however, I think this is going to be a very difficult year for him to get re-elected.
Full disclosure as well: I’m sitting this race out. I’ve known Sam Hart longer than any other person I know in this city. He’s been a good friend for fifteen years and, for my seven years in this city was both an advisor and mentor while I attended Mercer undergrad and law school.
Now, back to the topic.
Four years ago Charlie Bishop was elected under these circumstances:
• His opponent was not trusted by the business community and had serious character issues.
• Voters wanted less linkage between the Mayor of Macon and the County Commission.
• The black turnout was diminished due to John Kerry’s failure to energize the black voter base.
• The GOP and independent voter turnout was energized due to a stellar local Republican party and national GOP ground game for President Bush.
• The business community was fairly united behind Charlie as was the white community.
In 2008, none of those factors exists.
This year, I would venture to say the business community is going to line up behind Sam Hart. I’ve already heard a number of top businessmen in the community say they think the county needs a change of pace. There is perceived discord and dysfunction at the commission because of constant reports in the Telegraph about infighting, stacked decks, high handedness by the Chairman, and fights between Charlie and Joe Allen.
A number of prominent community leaders have been less than enamored with the county’s CAO, saying he has acted more as a campaign manager for the Chairman than a county administrator. That’s left a bad taste in their mouths. Likewise, some of them feel like they’ve been bullied by the Chairman or others on his behalf.
While those complaints are, below the surface, not wholly meritorious, they have created a perception of dysfunction and in politics perception is often the reality.
There is no C. Jack Ellis this year to concern voters. Thus far voters are pleased with Robert Reichert and he is no lightening rod. Likewise, Sam Hart is well respected in the community across racial lines and, unlike the opponent in 2004, I am sure there will be no tapes of Sam Hart circulating with his pants down.
More importantly, and beyond the candidate specific issues, we have a changed political dynamic that is going to hurt the GOP in general in Bibb County with Charlie Bishop and Rick Goddard both suffering. While Goddard will be able to make it up in other counties — perhaps even enough to win — Charlie Bishop won’t have that luxury.
The Bibb County Republican Party has not gotten its game face back since Don Layfield, the former Chairman died. The county and state parties are both suffering under John McCain as the nominee who, though he will be able to turn out the vote, has not been a super inspiring choice for the base.
The Democratic nominee is most likely going to be Barack Obama. Couple Obama’s popularity among liberal white voters and black voters with Sam Hart’s broad appeal in the community and you have an impressive turn out machine on the Democratic side with very little work or cost.
There is also the money disadvantage. Right now Charlie Bishop is at a significant money disadvantage to Sam Hart. Charlie also has a three way primary to get through that will dwindle his reserves for the general election. Sam Hart will not have that. Likewise, with the business community tilting heavily for Hart, Bishop will have difficulties raising money to stay competitive. Add to that an outmanned political party and the operational status of the campaign will be near rudderless.
The best thing for Charlie Bishop would be for Hillary Clinton to somehow get the Democratic nomination for President. Her nomination would suppress black turnout, create a natural rallying for the GOP, and boost his chances. Without that, however, there will be long odds for Charlie’s re-election this year. Even with it, the odds would still be in Sam Hart’s favor.