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Exit means others could get in the race

POSTED: April 16, 2009 12:32 a.m.
SARA GUEVARA/The Times

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle speaking to the Gainesville Kiwanis Club last September.

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The fallout from Casey Cagle’s departure from the governor’s race may indirectly result in the biggest change in statewide constitutional officers in the recent history.

That’s the prediction of Charles Bullock, a University of Georgia political scientist.

"You begin to wonder what are the further implications of (Cagle’s announcement) for people like (state Sens.) Johnson and Shafer, who were going to run for lieutenant governor," Bullock said. "If they’re not going to, then they need to refocus because of this. Georgia law that says you can’t take your political money with you if you change your objective."

Bullock said there are a number of Republicans who were not happy with the GOP contenders for governor.

"There may be pressures on people to get in," he said. "People who have been on the outside may reassess their decision not to run."

There was widespread speculation that at least one Republican member of the Georgia Congressional delegation will run for governor. Those mentioned include U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Gainesville, who says he is focused on his current job.

Others include U.S. Reps. Lynn Westmoreland, Phil Gingrey and Jack Kingston.

Westmoreland, who is from Coweta County and has family in White County, was a Republican leader in the Georgia House when it was controlled by Democrats. Had he not sought a seat in Congress, Westmoreland would have likely been elected speaker when Republicans took control.

Gingrey, a physician from Cobb County, is a former state senator who was elected to Congress in 2002.

Kingston, who is from Savannah, served in the state House before he was elected to Congress in 1992. He is the longest serving Republican in the Georgia delegation.

However, any thoughts of running for governor by U.S. House members would be thwarted if U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson changes his mind and runs for governor.

While Isakson has said he would stay put in the Senate, his entry in the race would likely shake up the GOP race for governor because of Isakson’s immense popularity with the state’s business community, whose support is crucial for fundraising.

An Isakson bid for governor would likely create an entry for Kingston into the U.S. Senate race, thus clearing the way for state Sen. Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, to leave the lieutenant governor’s race and make a bid for Congress.

With Secretary of State Karen Handel, Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine and Attorney General Thurbert Baker in the governor’s race, the landscape among the state’s constitutional officers will likely change. In addition, Commissioner of Agriculture Tommy Irvin has indicated he will not seek another term in that office.

Another player in the political musical chairs is Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond, mentioned as a possible Democratic contender for lieutenant governor.

Bullock said what is most notable about Cagle’s departure is that it comes a year and a half before the election.

"We’ve already had a major candidate get in and get out," he said. "The election is not even around the curve."

He said Cagle’s decision now puts his political career on a much slower track.

"Our governorship, with the exception of Roy Barnes, has become an eight-year job. So, he has to look at eight years of marking time in the Senate. It’s not as if he can take his potential today, bottle it, and uncork it in 2018."

He pointed to the case of Zell Miller, who served 16 years as lieutenant governor before winning the top office. Miller, who lost a runoff to incumbent U.S. Sen. Herman Talmadge in 1980, had to wait 10 years before making his bid for governor.



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