The Georgia governor’s race is stealing all the spotlight, leaving little attention for the lieutenant governor’s race and numerous General Assembly races, political scientists are saying.
As mudslinging kicks into high gear for the state’s most important political seat, it’s no surprise that the other campaigns are being ignored, they said.
“The governor’s race is typically the Superbowl of state politics, so generally both major parties will nominate a true heavyweight to be their party’s candidate,” said Douglas Young, a political science professor at Gainesville State College.
“Both parties will spend a lot of money focused on the governor’s race.”
This is especially true when the race is close.
“The Democrats desperately need to win the governorship because, in the last 20 years, they’ve gone from being the dominant party to the minority party in the state,” said Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia. “To begin to build back to the majority in the state, which they would love to achieve, the first step is to win the governorship. If they have control, they have input into the agenda.”
It’s also easier for the party to raise money for the presidential race if they hold the governor’s seat in 2012.
“A Democratic governor could also help with recruiting a candidate to run in the 2014 race,” Bullock said. “But finally and most importantly, the big issue next year is redistricting, and there’s no question that the state House and Senate will remain in Republican hands.”
If Republicans control both chambers, the only way for Democrats to be a part of the conversation is to win the governorship.
“If Republican plans are put in place, it’s almost guaranteed that they will control the House and Senate for another 10 years,” Bullock said.
Though the lieutenant governor and legislative races are also important for the redistricting process, both parties are focusing on the political office that could make the most difference.
“The Democrats have limited resources in Georgia, and all they’ve got they’re putting behind the (Democratic candidate Roy) Barnes effort,” Bullock said. “It’s also a chicken before the egg question. Barnes is closer in the polls because of where they’ve made the investments, but Barnes is also closer in this race than the others because of (Republican candidate Nathan) Deal’s financial problems.”
The financial problems and negative publicity have also become an easy target for the Democrats, Young said.
“I think the Democrats believe that in former governor Barnes they have about the best chance they’ve got to take back the governorship because Barnes was a very moderate and conservative governor,” he said. “I dare say he was the most conservative governor in the country in 1999-2003.”
Though Barnes is known by some as the governor who changed the state flag, he also cut tenure for new K-12 teachers and passed tax cuts, Young said.
“He fits the mold for the traditional southern Democratic politician, and he’s been very careful not to be at any (President Barack) Obama fundraisers,” he said. “I just saw an ad on TV last night in which Barnes was really speaking out against illegal immigration, so I think he’s the kind of moderate conservative Democrat who has a chance at winning statewide office in a red state.”
Poll numbers are probably driving the way Democrats spend their money for the governor’s race, he said.
“When I look at the polls, the governor’s race is by far the closest for statewide office, so they are all the more encouraged to spend a lot of money, especially if the Republican candidate is already vulnerable,” Young said. “Barnes won the Democratic Party nomination quite easily, and several major candidates had to fight hard on the Republican side. Deal had to fight in a runoff and won by the skin of his teeth.”
Polls explain the quiet side of the other state races as well.
“Realistically, (Democratic candidate) Carol Porter has such a long shot to be elected lieutenant governor, and I dare say that’s true of so many statewide Democratic candidates,” Young said. “It’s understandable to put more resources into the governor’s race. I do still think Deal is the favorite to win and can likely ride out the financial controversies. But the race for governor is going to be a lot closer than any other state race.”