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Crawford: 2010 was marked by political miscalculations
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Georgia politics was dominated during the past year by the race for governor, an election where the candidates made a lot of mistakes in formulating their strategies  mistakes that came back to haunt them.

When you consider all of these political errors, I think it's accurate to call 2010 "the year of miscalculations."

You can start with Karen Handel, who appeared to have the Republican nomination well in hand after the July 20 primary election. Handel came out of the GOP primary with an 11-point lead over Nathan Deal and appeared to have the momentum going in her favor.

At that point in the race, Handel calculated that the best use of her campaign funds was to pay for Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor, to appear at a campaign rally in Atlanta on the day before the Aug. 10 runoff. Handel spent $105,079 for this purpose, according to her disclosure reports: $91,952 to charter a jet to fly Palin to Atlanta and $13,127 to stage the campaign rally at the Intercontinental Hotel.

As it turned out, that was money down the drain. Handel lost the runoff to Deal by fewer than 3,000 votes.

Handel would have been smarter to forget about the Palin rally and spend a small portion of that money  $15,000 or so  on some opposition research into Deal's background. She would have learned about his financial problems that included a disastrous investment in his daughter's failed business and bank loan obligations that were pushing him to the brink of bankruptcy.

That information, which did not become public until revealed by newspaper reporters in mid-September, might have tipped a close runoff election to Handel and put her in position to win the general election in November. She badly miscalculated.

Eric Johnson, another Republican candidate for governor, miscalculated the impact of his personal conduct toward state Sen. Jeff Chapman of Brunswick.

Johnson and some of his GOP colleagues in the Senate were not very kind to Chapman, a political maverick with a pro-environmental streak, and their treatment of him motivated Chapman to run for governor rather than another term in the legislature.

Chapman finished fifth in the Republican primary but attracted more than 20,000 votes, mostly from coastal area precincts. Without Chapman in the race, those coastal votes might have gone to Johnson instead, which could have enabled him to finish ahead of Deal and make it into the runoff with Handel. Johnson did not realize until too late the effects of a Chapman candidacy on GOP primary voters.

Roy Barnes, the Democratic nominee for governor, made some miscalculations about the kind of general election campaign he should have run against Deal.

Barnes raised more money than Deal and decided that the funds could best be spent on a series of TV commercials attacking Deal over allegations of ethical misconduct.

Those TV spots did not work, because the state's voters didn't care that much about ethical issues this year. Party designation was much more important. Ray Strother, the political consultant who produced the TV ads for Barnes, told a reporter: "In focus groups, people say, Sure, your opponent's a crook - but he's a Republican and I'm voting for him.'"

Barnes also miscalculated the impact that outgoing Gov. Sonny Perdue, whose hatred of Barnes is legendary, would have on the race. A Washington organization headed by a former Perdue aide, the Republican Governors Association, spent more than $6.5 million running attack ads that pounded Barnes for being a member of the same political party as President Barack Obama.

That infusion of cash from the Perdue group erased any money advantage Barnes might have had and helped Deal maintain a comfortable lead in the polls leading up to the Nov. 2 election.

The one candidate who turned out to be better than anyone else at calculating the odds was Deal. He was short of money at times and made some mistakes early in his campaign, but he never gave up and kept plugging away at the seemingly insurmountable lead held by Handel among Republican voters.

In the end, Deal's calculations worked, which is why he will be raising his hand on Monday and taking the oath of office as Georgia's next governor.

Tom Crawford is the editor of The Georgia Report, an Internet news service that covers government and politics in Georgia. His column appears Wednesdays.

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