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Crawford: Long march to 2010 governors race begins
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While looking through some articles I wrote during a past campaign for governor, I found an account of the news conference where a legislator named Sonny Perdue officially announced he would run against incumbent Gov. Roy Barnes.

That article was dated Nov. 8, 2001, almost one year, to the day, before voters selected Perdue to be Georgia's 81st governor in the 2002 general election.

Things were different back then. You could devote 12 months to running for statewide office and still have a reasonable chance of winning.

That time frame is no longer operative, as we have learned in the past few months. Anyone who wants to run a credible race for governor now needs to start at least two years before Election Day, or even earlier in some instances.

Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine became the first declared candidate in the 2010 Republican primary when he formed his campaign committee last April. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle became the second declared candidate as he formed an exploratory committee last week to begin raising money for 2010.

On the Democratic side, former adjutant general David Poythress announced his intentions prior to the Labor Day weekend.

The pressure is now on the other prospective candidates for governor to make their intentions known. You could see announcements from Secretary of State Karen Handel, House Majority Leader Jerry Keen, and a couple of members of the state's congressional delegation, Lynn Westmoreland and Jack Kingston, before Thanksgiving Day rolls around.

The early start is also under way in the race to succeed Cagle as lieutenant governor. State Sen. Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, indicated several weeks ago he is going to run for the GOP nomination and he will soon be joined in that primary by Sen. David Shafer, R-Duluth.

Obviously, we're now in the era of the endless race for governor.

With the Republican takeover of state government earlier this decade, there has been a buildup of GOP politicians in various leadership positions. This means there are a lot of people with pent-up political ambitions who are now looking to move up the ladder.

The requirement for Perdue to step down as governor in 2010 because of the two-term limitation creates a huge opening that these politicians are hoping to fill.

As gubernatorial campaigns get longer, they will also become much more expensive as well.

In the 2002 race for governor, Barnes spent a record amount of more than $20 million on his doomed campaign. Perdue and the state Republican Party organization spent another $7 million to $8 million on Perdue's successful challenge, making for a combined total that came in just under $30 million.

In 2010, considering all of the candidates who plan to run, we'll see that $30 million spending level exceeded in the Republican primary alone, and that's before you even get to the general election face-off with the Democratic nominee, whoever that may be.

I remember in 2002 the many complaints I heard from business people and politically active Georgians who were constantly being squeezed by Barnes and his campaign manager, Bobby Kahn, for contributions.

If they thought 2002 was bad, they're really going to hate 2010. With eight or 10 serious candidates running in the two party primaries, the urgent pleas for money are going to be endless. The heads of Georgia's banks, law firms and corporations will soon discover that their telephones are never going to stop ringing.

As the candidates step up to run, the questions will start being raised.

Will Cagle, who has moderated some of his more conservative positions since becoming lieutenant governor, have an advantage in appealing to swing voters?

Would Republican primary voters prefer a more partisan conservative such as Westmoreland or Keen?

Will Oxendine drop out of the race before primary day, as he did several years ago when he terminated his campaign for lieutenant governor?

Poythress is likely just a placeholder for the eventual Democratic nominee. Will the Democrats pick House Minority Leader DuBose Porter or state Sen. Tim Golden?

Or will Barnes come swooping out of the wings to try to win his old job back?

We don't have any answers to those questions just yet, but we've got at least two years to think about them.

Tom Crawford is the editor of Capitol Impact's Georgia Report, an Internet news service at that covers government and politics in Georgia. His column appears Thursdays.

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