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Crawford: Vanity candidates crowd 2014 Senate ballots

POSTED: November 6, 2013 1:00 a.m.

You will see them in every election cycle: People who have never been elected to political office before, who have little money and who are unknown to most voters, get the idea in their heads that they can run for governor or the U.S. Senate.

You have to figure that most of them surely know they have no realistic chance of winning. Or don’t they?

These are “vanity candidates,” because the only thing they can hope to accomplish with a political suicide mission is the gratification of their egos. I guess it’s flattering to have the local newspaper include your name in election articles.

It’s a rare vanity candidate who draws more than 1 percent of the actual vote, but still they pay a large qualification fee and devote a lot of their energy to the effort.

In some cases, these candidates do it because it’s a good way to drum up public notice and promote their businesses or professional careers.

Herman Cain is an example of this. The businessman launched his first campaign in 2004 when he ran in the Republican primary for a U.S. Senate seat.

Cain was an energetic campaigner and dynamic speaker, but it was clear he had no real chance to win a statewide GOP primary. He attracted more than 20 percent of the vote but lost decisively to Johnny Isakson.

The media attention Cain received as a black conservative candidate, however, gave his career a huge boost. He got a job as a talk radio host in Atlanta, launched another losing campaign for the presidency, and was invited to make numerous appearances on Fox TV.

Saxby Chambliss’ decision to step down from the U.S. Senate next year created an opening that has attracted vanity candidates like a jar of honey attracts flies.

There are several current or former officeholders running in the Republican primary for the seat: U.S. Reps. Paul Broun of Athens, Phil Gingrey of Cobb County and Jack Kingston of Savannah, along with former secretary of state Karen Handel.

Each of these candidates is fairly well known to voters and they have anywhere from $300,000 to nearly $3 million in their campaign bank accounts.

David Perdue is an obscure businessman who might normally be dismissed as a vanity candidate, but his decision to put $1.1 million of his own money into the campaign – along with the fact that he is Sonny Perdue’s cousin – means he should be taken seriously.

There are other candidates in the senate primary who should not be taken as seriously.

Eugene Yu was born in Korea but emigrated with his family to the Augusta area more than 40 years ago. He’s a former Richmond County sheriff’s deputy who now runs his own business.

Yu has raised less than $40,000 in contributions, although he says he has loaned his campaign $202,000. I don’t think that money is going to do him much good.

Derrick Grayson is a DeKalb County minister who also says he’s running for the GOP nomination, but he’s raised less than $5,000, which includes a $1,000 loan from himself. That isn’t going to take you very far in a statewide race.

On the Democratic side, Michelle Nunn has emerged as an early frontrunner who raised more than $1.7 million in her first 10 weeks of campaigning. She also has some name recognition as the daughter of retired Sen. Sam Nunn.

Nunn has energized the Democratic Party base, with many of the party’s activists and elected officials already supporting her. It appears she will win the nomination without breaking much of a sweat.

There are other folks running as Democrats such as Branko Radulovacki, a naturalized citizen from what was once known as Yugoslavia who’s now an Atlanta psychiatrist calling himself “Dr. Rad.” He has raised $103,458, which is a commendable amount for a novice candidate. Yet in this race, the chances that he can overtake the frontrunner are still slim and Nunn.

Todd Robinson of Columbus and Steen Miles of DeKalb County also claim to be running for the Democratic nomination, but like Dr. Rad, they probably won’t make much of a dent in the race.

You have to admire them for trying – and maybe that’s what really matters to a vanity candidate.

Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report. His column appears Wednesdays and at gainesvilletimes.com/viewpoint.


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