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Tom Crawford: Next governors race already heating up at Capitol
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For the next few weeks you’ll see every candidate for president dropping by the Capitol in Atlanta as they campaign toward the March 1 presidential primary.

Speaker David Ralston is happy to see them come and says each of them will have an opportunity to make a guest appearance before the members of the House.

“They’ll all be invited,” said Ralston, adding with a laugh: “I’ll even let in candidates of the other party.”

While those candidates get all the media attention, another group of politicians has been just as busy working behind the scenes on another election campaign.

That would be the governor’s race in 2018, and while you haven’t seen much reporting on it, there is already quite a bit of maneuvering underway.

Secretary of State Brian Kemp has been getting ready for years to run for governor, but he has a lot of work to do to neutralize the negative media coverage of a recent data breach involving his agency.

While Kemp is tending to that chore, he also has to be looking back over his shoulder wondering about the activities of another statewide official who wants to run for governor: Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle. Don’t expect Cagle to do any favors for Kemp in the upcoming legislative session.

If I were advising Kemp, I’d tell him to put on a Kevlar vest anytime he walks near the Senate chambers.

Attorney General Sam Olens, the state’s top elected legal official, has long been rumored as a potential candidate for governor.

Olens had to break the news to Gov. Nathan Deal last month that the governor couldn’t legally keep Syrian refugees from resettling in Georgia.

Olens also had to remind Deal that he couldn’t order state agencies to deny the refugees food stamps and other federally funded benefits.

“I am unaware of any law or agreement that would permit a state to carve out refugees from particular countries from participation in the refugee resettlement program, no matter how well-intentioned or justified the desire to carve out such refugees might be,” Olens said in a letter to the governor.

Deal had the good sense to heed Olens’ advice. The first executive order the governor signed in January rescinded the order he issued in November to have the state stomp on Syrian refugees.

Normally, it would be considered a positive development when someone like Olens advises a governor to obey the law and the governor listens to him. You would want someone with that kind of level-headed judgment to be running for the state’s top job.

But there are times when the right course isn’t necessarily the best political course. If Olens does decide to run for governor in two years, he has left himself wide open to accusations that he’s in favor of allowing terrorists to flood into Georgia. Some of his Republican primary opponents would probably run attack ads claiming that Olens caved in to ISIS by not stopping Syrian refugees at the state line.

Lynn Westmoreland, the congressman from Georgia’s 3rd District, announced last week that he will not run for another U.S. House term this year. Westmoreland has been interested in running for governor for a long time — he considered the race back in 2010 when Sonny Perdue was nearing the end of his two terms in office.

If Westmoreland still plans to run for governor in 2018, his decision to step down from Congress may be a very smart move.

He can now spend two years traveling across the state, meeting with voters and contributors, and won’t have to worry about flying back to Washington for a vote. Best of all, he no longer has the title “congressman” in front of his name.

Westmoreland saw what happened in 2014 when three sitting House members — Jack Kingston, Phil Gingrey and Paul Broun — tried to run for Saxby Chambliss’ Senate seat.

They all lost, in part because GOP primary voters didn’t trust incumbent members of Congress. Westmoreland would solve that problem by getting out of Congress before cranking up his campaign for governor.

While you watch the campaigning of Trump, Clinton, Rubio or Cruz, keep in mind that after they’re gone, there’s another big race coming in 2018. The scramble for that one has already started.

Tom Crawford is the editor of the Georgia Report.

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