Former Gov. Roy Barnes on Wednesday announced his intent to enter the 2010 Democratic race to reclaim the office he lost to Sonny Perdue in 2002.
In an announcement in Marietta, Barnes said he would launch his campaign in July after he completes his term as chairman of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
Barnes, 61, made the announcement surrounded by family members. The Democrat says he wants to improve education and transportation and says he’s learned from past mistakes.
“I realize that when I was governor before I didn’t do enough listening. I realize that I was impatient and had an aggressive agenda,” Barnes said Wednesday.
Several political insiders expect Barnes will become the front-runner for the Democratic nomination ahead of the three other Democrats in the race — Attorney General Thurbert Baker, House Minority Leader DuBose Porter of Dublin and former state Adjutant General David Poythress — all of whom released statements Wednesday focused on Barnes’ divisive past.
Barnes was elected governor in 1998 but was denied a second term by Perdue. His loss was blamed on his alienation of teachers over his education alienation of teachers over his education reform and his move to change the state flag.
By the time he left office in 2003, Barnes had a reputation for arrogance that spawned an infamous 2002 campaign ad depicting him as a rat named “King Roy.”
“Georgia voters... want and deserve a governor focused on leading Georgia into the future, not refighting the fights of the past,” Baker’s campaign manager Jeff DiSantis said in a prepared statement sent to the news media.
Porter’s camp released a statement that said that the Dublin native worked for 27 years to “bring people and policy together to drive projects forward.”
“Bringing people together creates working solutions,” Porter’s statement read. “That is my leadership style. It is what Georgia needs and separates me from the other candidates in this race and why I will win the primary.”
Poythress, a Macon native, said Barnes told him of his intention to run for governor in a phone conversation earlier Wednesday.
Poythress said the announcement would not affect his plans to seek the governor’s office, however.
“Certainly, we’re in the campaign to win,” Poythress said.
In 1999, Barnes appointed Poythress adjutant general, commander of the Georgia Army and Air National Guard, in the rank of Major General, according to Poythress’ political Web site.
Poythress called Barnes a friend and a decent man, but also said Barnes’ past service as governor should work against him.
“I just think he has shown that he was not able to unite and direct the people of Georgia and the political leadership of Georgia in a common direction,” Poythress said.
Yet local Democrats were excited to hear of Barnes’ candidacy.
Mike Freeman, chairman of the Hall County Democrats, said Barnes’ announcement will make the 2010 election more interesting and a more difficult feat for the Republican candidates in the race.
“I think it’s going to make it probably much more difficult for the Republicans to come up with a winnable candidate,” said Freeman. “I certainly hope so.”
The Republican field for governor includes U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal of Gainesville, Secretary of State Karen Handel, state Sen. Eric Johnson of Savannah, Ray McBerry of McDonough, Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine and state Rep. Austin Scott of Tifton.
Deal, who served with Barnes in the state Senate, released a statement on Barnes’ announcement wishing the Democratic candidate well in his effort to secure a nomination from his party.
“... I consider him a friend,” said Deal. “I am sure that he is as focused on getting his party’s nomination as I am on mine. Today, I wish him well.”
Johnson’s campaign manager, Ben Fry, issued a statement on behalf of his candidate.
“Roy Barnes is a formidable opponent, and his entry into the race only emphasizes the need for Republicans to nominate the candidate best able to appeal to voters across the state in the General Election,” Fry said, adding that Johnson “has gone toe to toe with the Barnes machine in the past and is confident that voters will make the same decision they did in 2002 when they trusted Eric and his colleagues to govern Georgia.”
The head of Hall County’s Republican Party Jim Pilgrim called Barnes the most formidable opponent on the Democratic ticket, but said the Democratic nomination would not affect a governor’s race in a largely Republican state, even if Barnes wins it.
“I think we (Republicans) will prevail at the end especially when people see our conservative ideas and strife to lower taxes and keep taxes down,” Pilgrim said.
“I don’t think it makes any difference who’s running on the other ticket.”
Other Republicans were a little less friendly to the fresh face on the campaign trail.
Scott’s Director of Communications, Brad Alexander, likened Barnes’ previous term as governor to Gen. William T. Sherman’s Civil War campaign in Georgia.
“Gen. Sherman was the last person to march all over Georgians the way Roy Barnes did with his hatchet man,” Scott’s statement read.
State Republican Party Chairwoman Sue P. Everhart issued a statement saying, “Today’s entrance of former Gov. Roy Barnes into the governor’s race underscores the ongoing lack of direction of Georgia Democrats, as well as their inability to listen to the people.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.