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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Testing Deep South Racial Stereotypes

Republican governors are term-limited in both Alabama and Georgia going into 2010. And despite Barack Obama’s poor performance in the former state and the recent Republican dominance in the latter, Democrats are hopeful about regaining the governorship in both states, where GOPers are in some disarray.
But the interesting thing is that the early front-runners for the Democratic gubernatorial nominations in Alabama and Georgia are African-Americans, as noted recently by Tom Baxter of the Southern Political Report.
Anyone who knows Alabama U.S. Rep. Artur Davis is aware that he’s been looking at a gubernatorial race for a good while. He formally entered the 2010 contest a couple of months ago, and with the recent decision of former Gov. Jim Folsom, Jr., against running, Davis is generally considered the primary front-runner, though Agriculture Commissioner Ronnie Sparks has now jumped in and state Sen. Roger Bedford may do so later.
Davis has built a definite reputation in national Democratic circles as a centrist, dating back to his original primary victory over civil rights veteran Earl Hilliard in 2002. But he was also an early supporter and close advisor to Barack Obama, with whom he has often been compared, in part due to their distinguished stints at Harvard Law School. His own early polls show him running even in general election trial heats against three possible Republican nominees, state Treasurer Kay Ivey, Alabama community college chancellor Bradley Byrne, and Troy University chancellor Jack Hawkins (Hawkins has since renounced intentions to run).
The unsettled nature of the Republican field in Alabama is best illustrated by fears that the infamous “Ten Commandments Judge,” Roy Moore, who fared poorly in a primary challenge to Gov. Bob Riley in 2006, could win the nomination this time around as the best known candidate. GOPers could have a messy and divisive primary.
Georgia has two African-American Democratic statewide elected officials, Attorney General Thurbert Baker and Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond. Both have won three consecutive statewide elections during a period when Republicans have captured nearly every other statewide office while winning control of the legislature. Baker surprised many observers by announcing for governor last week. Once a floor leader in the legislature for Zell Miller, he’s a relatively quiet politician who has steadily built a reputation as a moderate-to-conservative with a law-and-order pedigree.
Baker’s statewide name ID and the importance of the African-American vote in Democratic primaries makes him the putative front-runner, but he faces a tough race and a probable runoff, even if former Gov. Roy Barnes doesn’t join the field. House Democratic Leader DuBose Porter announced his candidacy yesterday, and former Secretary of State, Labor Commissioner, and Adjutant General David Poythress has been campaigning for months.
Georgia Republicans, meanwhile, are sure to have a competitive and potentially nasty primary involving front-runner Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle (the guy who beat Ralph Reed in 2006), long-time Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, and the relatively moderate Secretary of State, Karen Handel.
Those who think of the Deep South as little more than a bastion of Republicanism these days should keep an eye on these contests. They have the potential to upset not only partisan, but perhaps racial, stereotypes.

2 comments on “Testing Deep South Racial Stereotypes

  1. edkilgore on

    George:
    Yes, you’re right, and I started to mention that, but the truth is we don’t know if grumbling about Baker among African-American leaders will translate into lost votes in an actual election, given the historic nature of the candidacy.
    You could make the case that when Andy Young ran for governor in 1990 he was “to the right” of Zell Miller on some issues like economic development. But he still carried the African-American vote overwhelmingly. We’ll just have to see what kind of campaign Baker and his competitors run, but I think we must begin with the presumption that Baker will get the lion’s share of the African-American vote in a state where that vote is about half the primary electorate.

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  2. George on

    Thurbert Baker may face problems with the African American community – he has had no primary opposition since becoming AG, but he has alienated many by his inaction in some cases (the Genarlow Wilson case, ethics prosecutions) and his actions in others (see his opinion dealing a blow to a lawsuit brought by small counties to challenge the funding formula used to fund education in the state).

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