Handicapping Georgia 2018

There’s no sense in sugarcoating any of this, 2016 has been a disastrous year for the Republican party and our national institutions. Nobody trusts the media. Hillary Clinton’s campaign insinuates that Russia is “meddling” in the Presidential election –to the benefit of Donald Trump. Polls are “rigged,” as is, according to Trump, the entire election. There’s talk of assassination and revolution.

But politics, even this years’ especially corrosive brand of it, will continue. So we’re going to look past the carnage of this years’ presidential campaign and into Georgia’s 2018 contests. Call it speculation, but predicting what’s going to happen later is a whole lot more pleasant than observing what’s actually happening now.

Political predictions are fraught with risk, but one can make out a few moderately certain things looking past this year and next into the Georgia’s electoral situation in 2018. For starters, there’s going to be a real bumper car contest in the Republican contest for Governor.

Kingstontweet1It’s pretty clear that former Senate candidate Jack Kingston, as an advisor to the Trump campaign, is trying to lock up the most motivated, least sane wing of Georgia’s electorate, and burnish his credentials as an “outsider.” Kingston has made the rounds of the talk shows defending Trump and taken to Twitter complain about alleged “media bias” against Trump. While everyone appreciates a loyal soldier, repeating or retweeting anything from Alex Jones’ conspiracy-fueled Infowars site is like being the only nudist at a square dance –folks will stare, but not because you’re a good dancer. Loyalty aside, Kingston’s 2018 candidacy will have to outrun the stench of Trump before it outruns anything else.

Speculation about a potential run for Governor by Secretary of State Brian Kemp ran rampant when Kemp was originally appointed to that position in 2010 –Kemp outmaneuvered then-Governor Sonny Perdue’s first choice, State Rep Jim Cole, for the slot and it was widely assumed that Kemp would use the Secretary of State’s office as a means of moving to the big house on West Paces Ferry Road. But Kemp’s term in office has created a public record that would supercharge his opponents’ attack ads. From an intermittently functional website, to the infamous data “breach,” to the lawsuits over illegally removing voters from the voter rolls, Kemp’s own record may be what keeps him out of the Governor’s race.

With his degenerative spine issue seemingly resolved, Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle is all but certain to throw his hat in the ring for Governor. He’s got a book on education, and has made virtue-signaling noises to social conservatives. Cagle has always occupied a narrow space between the politics of Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush, but whether he can stay on that ground after Donald Trump has carpet-bombed is a lingering question. Cagle’s secret weapon? He’s very popular Among African American voters who could give Cagle an edge in a general election.

No list of potential candidates for Governor in 2018 would be complete without House Speaker David Ralston. Ralston has also had to walk the tightrope between the social/evangelical/voting folks and the business/chamber of commerce/donating segment. He’s proven adept at spot welding majorities together when the House has to deliver one, although some of those majorities created no small amount of rancor in his party, he’s probably content right where he is –helping choose governors, rather than becoming one.

Georgia’s congressional delegation doesn’t lack for pols eyeing the governor’s mansion, either, but outgoing Rep. Lynn Westmoreland ought to be struck from everyone’s list right away. Westmoreland has represented most of Georgia in Congress at one time or another, and is a proven campaigner. His public statements about running for Governor have been essentially “I don’t know, I’m thinking about it.” Close observers say that if Westmoreland wanted to be Governor, he’d already be Governor.

Rep. Tom Price of Roswell on the other hand, could be showing his hand with deeds and not words. He hasn’t said much publicly, but has formed an independent committee and showered potential state house allies with campaign contributions. Respected and well-liked, Price has made no secret of his desire to move up the leadership chain in the House –he’s currently chairman of the House Budget Committee- and a run for Governor just might scratch that ambition itch.

Congressman Tom Graves represents the 9th most Republican-leaning district in the nation, Georgia’s 14th District in the northwest corner of the State. While concentrating so many hard-right Republicans into one district would appear to strengthen a candidate, eventually all those conservatives forget who the real enemy is and begin fighting each other. Like too many squirrels on too little territory. Nonetheless, Grave has hired two political consultants already, and may decide that 2018 is his best chance to put the squirrels to work. The same holds true for Rep. Doug Collins –whose 9th district is the third most Republican district in the nation.

The biggest unanswered question for 2018 though, is which candidate will be the beneficiary of the Perdue machine? A unmatched campaign apparatus of donors and supporters that has elected a Governor and a Senator is going to be put to use for somebody. The only question is who.


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