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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

2010 Cycle Heating Up Early

This item by Ed Kilgore was originally published on June 4, 2009
The midterm elections of 2010 are still seventeen months away, but in many states, the cycle’s starting early, in part, no doubt, because everyone is expecting a difficult environment for fundraising.
In my home state of Georgia, the 2010 gubernatorial contest has been actively underway for months, and has been enlivened by two big events that have significantly changed the field. Lt. Governor Casey Cagle, the early frontrunner on the GOP side, suddenly withdrew from the governor’s race in April, citing health issues (he is, however, running for re-election). That decision lured U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal, who shares a geographical base with Cagle, into the GOP field, which already featured two statewide elected officials, Secretary of State Karen Handel (a protege of term-limited incumbent Gov. Sonny Perdue) and Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine.
Then just yesterday, former Gov. Roy Barnes, who lost to Perdue in 2002 in a major upset, jumped into the race on the Democratic side. The field already includes Attorney General Thurbert Baker, former Secretary of State and Adjutant General David Poythress, and state House Democratic leader Dubose Porter. Barnes is the Big Dog of Georgia Democratic politics, and was immediately regarded as the front-runner, even getting a big shout-out from the Democratic Governors Association as though he were the putative nominee. It wouldn’t be a big surprise if one or more of Barnes’ rivals decides to give the contest a pass. Early polling by DKos/R2K in April showed Barnes running ahead of Handel and just behind Oxendine.
Though Georgia has leaned decisively Republican in recent cycles, the recession (which has hit the state very hard), infighting among Republicans, and significant cutbacks in state services and investments, have all given Democrats hope that they can stage a comeback in 2010. Indeed, Georgia may become one of many states where there will be an interesting test about which party gets the blame for bad times: the governing party in Washington, or the incumbent party closer to home.
The same could be true of Florida, which at least one recent analysis called the hardest-hit of all the states, thanks to a massive decline in home prices. Though Obama carried the state last year, Republicans have been regularly winning most other elections of late; gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink, the state CFO, is the only Democratic statewide elected official other than U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, and Republicans control both state legislative chambers.
Sink enjoys a cleared field for the gubernatorial nomination, and Florida Democrats are enthusiastic about her candidacy (it doesn’t hurt that her husband is 2002 gubernatorial nominee Bill McBride, a wealthy trial lawyer). Her almost certain opponent, Attorney General Bill McCollum, has lost two Senate bids since 2000, and he will also have to deal with possible fallout from a bitter, ideologically-driven Senate primary between Gov. Charlie Crist and former FL House Speaker Marco Rubio. Crist will likely win that primary, but hard-core conservatives could decide to sit on their hands on General Election Day. And since Republicans now control state government, the perennial state budget crisis will probably be held to their account by many voters.
Georgia and Florida are two states where Democrats often express optimism early in cycles, only to experience the hard realities of minority status when voting draws near. This is one cycle where Democrats have more realistic grounds for an optimism that could extend right through to election day.

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