October 12, 2006
Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue and his opponent, Democrat Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, have taken to the airwaves as the November gubernatorial election approaches. Both have gone on the offensive, with Taylor questioning Perdue's cheap land buy in Florida - and personal $100,000 tax deferment - and the Perdue campaign hitting back at Taylor's lifelong bankrolling by his father.
The Georgia Republican Party is, naturally, the driving force behind the Perdue campaign; in a midterm election year, with an incumbent governor - the first from the GOP since Reconstruction - this race is the party's top priority. However, with the funds the state party - and, by extension, the Perdue campaign - have available, the product thus far has been less than desirable.
Both ineffective and contradictory, Perdue's advertisements convey no realistic achievements, proposals, or ideas, other than to set Perdue up as an everyman. One Perdue ad bemoans the idea Taylor would consider running negative ads against him, a message which lost any force when Perdue began running just the type of advertisement he'd decried.
Mary Perdue's appearances in advertisements should have been effective, as the Perdues' 35-year marriage stands in contrast to Taylor's multiple marriages. However, these Perdue ads wore thin quickly, due largely to their weakly staged conversations about poorly cited initiatives which, if effective, would have been welcome during Perdue's four previous years in office.
Perdue's campaign must improve its efforts, as well as its mindset, if he is to succeed in his bid for re-election. In a year when turnout is expected to be remarkably low - the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Tuesday that turnout as low as 30 percent would not be surprising - candidates must motivate people, providing compelling reasons for them to vote.
However, many Perdue campaign staffers seem to have assumed the "arrogance of incumbency," viewing those potential voters, as well as campaign volunteers across the state, as mere pawns for their disdainful use. This show of hubris, which has no basis, is slowly contributing to a quiet loss of support for Perdue at the grassroots level - the very people who, with hard work and dedication, made his victory possible four years ago.
As of last week, Perdue had a surprisingly comfortable lead in most polls - 19 in Mason-Dixon, 13 in Strategic Vision. But there are similarities to the 2002 gubernatorial contest which should serve as warning to the Perdue campaign, and to Georgia Republicans.
Four years ago, incumbent Democrat Gov. Roy Barnes was running for re-election. He had a commanding double-digit lead in the polls throughout the fall, carrying an 11-point advantage into election week. But a rising tide of displeasure with Barnes throughout the state - particularly from supporters of keeping the Confederate battle flag on the state flag - and a pro-Republican national climate - the GOP gained seats in both the House and Senate that year - combined to lift the challenger, Perdue, to a remarkable and unexpected victory.
This is not 2002, and Sonny Perdue is not Roy Barnes. But Perdue is now the incumbent, and must stand on his record and ideological credentials - neither of which is stellar - in the face of a concerted effort to dethrone him.
Also looming large is the evolving national climate. One result of the appalling congressional page scandal involving former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., and its poor handling by House Speaker Dennis Hastert , R-Ill., was to reverse the slowly growing pro-Republican sentiment across the country. GOP voters have become more discouraged than ever, and may stay home on election day in greater numbers than previously expected.
Both gubernatorial candidates must increase, and improve, their efforts if they are to be victorious Nov. 7. Taylor must pull more undecideds to his side, and convince GOP voters not to turn out at the polls. Fortunately for him, the latter appears largely ready to take care of itself. At a time when confidence and trust in politicians is quickly - and rightly - waning, Perdue has thus far failed to present an inspirational persona or message.
Despite the polling numbers, Perdue must make a number of mid-course corrections, overruling his overrated campaign staff if necessary. He must bring excitement to a campaign that's lacked it. Otherwise, he could wind up enduring the same fate he inflicted upon Barnes, losing while a heavy favorite - and, in the process, becoming not only the first Republican governor since Reconstruction, but also the last.
• Jeff Emanuel, a Special Operations military veteran who served in Iraq, is a senior at the University of Georgia.