Return to the Wilderness

By any stretch of the imagination, Republicans in Georgia should be sitting pretty and loving life. They are not. There is a restlessness, a nervousness, in the air – the feeling of doom on the horizon. 2006 will arrive sooner than expected and the Republicans are starting to wonder if the Governor has any clothes.

“The egos and fissures within our party are going to kill us next year if Cathy Cox doesn’t.”

For the first time in Georgia’s history, the Republicans control the State House, State Senate, and Governor’s Mansion. Just this year the GOP has started pushing an aggressive pro-business agenda ranging from tort reform to development confidentiality (a bill that the media has made controversial, but is actually straight forward: when the state is trying to attract business development, it will not have to reveal the name of the business being wooed or the terms with which the business is being wooed – something the media hates). But, ask a Republican member of the General Assembly or a Republican consultant what Governor Perdue has actually done and most cannot count his accomplishments on one finger. Therein lies the problem for the GOP.

While no one doubts that the Governor, through executive order, appointment power, and steerage of legislation has done well, few can actually name his accomplishments. Instead, many see his staff as, at best, young and inexperienced and, at worse, young and incompetent. Across the hall from the Governor, Secretary of State Cathy Cox is making her bid to oust him. Republicans hope for a blood bath in the Democratic primary and are very nervous that Cox will get the Democratic nomination.

Cox is a dynamic and attractive Secretary of State. She is smart without having to prove it to you, she has a long list of accomplishments, and she comes across as a genuinely nice person. Knowing her somewhat informally, I can attest to her natural charisma and charm – she may be pro-choice and pro-high taxes, but you would love her for being that way once you have been exposed to her charm. She is, in a sense, a female Bill Clinton removed of all the slime and filled with ethics – a natural politician who is savvy, well regarded, and has a sense of what the people want. Whether you really can or cannot, you think you can trust her.

Secretary Cox is being opposed by Mark Taylor, the current Lieutenant Governor. Taylor is like Bill Clinton as well, with double the weight, double the slime, and the same lack of ethics that got Clinton in trouble. Taylor plays hard ball and he aims to win. Unfortunately for him, many a good ole boy in Georgia will not like it when he beats up on that nice lady from Bainbridge, Secretary Cox.

Put together Cox’s natural likeability and known accomplishments with Perdue’s good nature, but, as of now, uncompelling story of gubernatorial leadership, and you have a disaster in the making for the Republicans. Additionally, the GOP keeps pouring new people into the Lieutenant Governor’s race – John Oxendine, Casey Cagle, Ralph Reed, and possibly Karen Handle. Reed scares the moderates, Cagle annoys the conservatives, Oxendine inspires no one, and Handle is the token female. Right now Reed has the advantage, which artful Dems might be able to use to hurt the GOP with moderate voters across the board.

If that was not enough, there is the General Assembly. By all accounts, Glen Richardson, the first Republican Speaker of the House, is a great leader with a good sense of what is right. He keeps his team together. On the Senate side, however, things are more factious. Like the U.S. Senate, the Georgia Senate is filled with many lightweights and many competing personalities. The leadership tries to keep everyone together, but their efforts equate to herding cats. For all the talk of a united agenda, several Senators have their own agenda with the friction between the competing agendas causing too much heat.

Bill Stephens, the Senate Majority Leader, want to run for Secretary of State. David Shafer, a Gwinnett County State Senator, exudes ambition. In addition to backing Casey Cagle for Lieutenant Governor, Shafer wants Stephens’s current job, but Stephens and Shafer have a history of not exactly getting along. Eric Johnson, the current President Pro Tem of the Senate, is friends with Stephens, both of whom are aligned with the Ralph Reed wing of the party. Behind their backs, Shafer and Cagle have been effective at rallying support for Cagle among freshman GOP Senators readily inclined to support their own. With the start of a new elections season, Stephens, Cagle, and others will begin making their legislative marks, all leaving Perdue marginalized.

One consultant told me yesterday, “The egos and fissures within our party are going to kill us next year if Cathy Cox doesn’t.” That about sums up the state of the party in Georgia. There is time for remedial action, if someone steps forward. If no one does so soon, the party might be headed back into the political wilderness.

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Erick Erickson

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2 Comments

  • No disagreement from here. Kudos for putting all those observations together so pithily. Democrats have organizational problems of their own, however — oh, believe me, we do — and have a dismal four years in store if they lose the governor’s race.

    On a side note: can you say anything about the prospects of SB 84 this session? It seems stalled on the general calendar, and — I say this as a someone sympathetic to trying to get legislation passed this close to crossover day — time’s a-wastin’ …

  • I disagree with your take on the Lt. Governor’s race. Casey Cagle is no moderate and no country clubber. He is the conservative candidate in the race. Ralph Reed long ago forfeited his claim to being a conservative. Reed has spent the last ten years renting out his once deserved reputation as a leading Christian conservative to anyone with a checkbook. In the last year, he has taken over $4 million in consulting fees from an Indian gaming casino!

    Casey has much more than “the freshmen senators” endorsing his candidacy. He is backed by almost 2/3 of the Senate Republican Caucus, with the balance uncommitted and only one senator openly backing Ralph Reed. Most of the senior senators, including many committee chairmen, are backing Cagle. As for Eric Johnson and Bill Stephens, if and when they make their endorsements, there will be no one in the Caucus left for them to “lead.”