February 13, 2002
Can the Republican Party defeat Roy Barnes in November?
Yes. Barnes has done little to create popular enthusiasm for a second term.
BY LUKE BOGGS
At a glance, Gov. Roy Barnes looks like a shoo-in for re-election. He’s an incumbent, he’s raised a mountain of money, and he’s a Democrat running in a state that hasn’t elected a GOP governor since 1868. (Republican Bo Callaway got the most votes in 1966, but that’s another story.)
Yet formidable as he may appear, Barnes doesn’t have a lock on re-election for two basic reasons: 1) Georgia Republicans are not the perennial doormats of old, and 2) Barnes is not a particularly attractive candidate.
Time was, Democratic primaries were Georgia’s de facto elections. Not anymore. GOP presidential candidates have carried Georgia in four of the last five elections. Statewide, Republicans have been routinely competitive since 1992, winning contests for U.S. senator, state school superintendent and insurance commissioner, among others. A decade ago, there was one Georgia Republican in Washington. Today, the GOP dominates the state’s U.S. House delegation, holding eight of 11 seats.
Meanwhile, GOP caucuses under the Gold Dome more than doubled in the last decade, growing from 11 to 24 members in the 56-seat Senate, and from 35 to 73 members in the 180-seat House. If it weren’t for expert Democratic gerrymandering, Republicans might already control the General Assembly; in 2000, GOP candidates for the state legislature won 300,000 more votes than their Democratic opponents.
As for Barnes, his strengths pretty much begin and end with the mammoth pile of campaign loot he’s sitting on. “Barnes has plenty of lobbyist money propping him up, but his support is a mile wide and an inch thick,” explains GOP political consultant Mark Rountree. “The only people with any passion for him are people who make money off state government.”
Indeed, Barnes has done little to create popular enthusiasm for a second term. He has made scant progress on conspicuous problems like education and traffic gridlock. Unlike his predecessor, he has no HOPE scholarship to broaden his appeal across party lines. And now Georgia’s economy is faltering on his watch.
Abrasive and imperious, Barnes has made enemies. He angered diehard defenders of the old state flag, but few of them would have supported him anyway. Much more critically, Barnes ticked off teachers, an essentialDemocratic constituent group, with his education schemes. And he energized Republicans with his unprecedented and mean-spirited partisanship.
While Barnes may help other Democrats with the hideous paint-splatter redistricting maps he spawned last year, he won’t be able to gerrymander his own way to re-election. (I’m pretty sure Alabama, Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee would have something to say if Barnes tried to tweak the lines of his district.)
No question, Roy Barnes can be beaten by the right Republican. GOP primary voters would do well to choose wisely.
Luke Boggs thinks Barnes was right to change the state flag and that GOP candidates, unless they want to lose, should avoid mentioning it.