Georgia ReportNews

Elections Should Be About the Future, Not the Past

There are many lessons about elections I’ve learned through years of reporting on politics. One lesson is that elections are about the future. Candidates are usually more successful when they communicate new ideas for solving the problems confronting a state or community. Candidates who are stuck in the past typically have a harder time inspiring people to go to the polls and vote for them.  

With that lesson in mind, I’ve been wondering what Michelle Nunn’s people are thinking in mapping out the strategy for her U.S. Senate campaign. Much of Nunn’s campaign message focuses on the fact that she’s the daughter of Sam Nunn, the retired senator. Sam Nunn has certainly helped his daughter raise funds for her race, thanks to his many connections in Washington, and he even appeared in one of her TV commercials.

While he did a commendable job of serving Georgia in the U.S. Senate, Sam Nunn is almost 76 years old and sounds a little old and tired. The last time his name even appeared on an election ballot was in 1990. He’s not exactly the person you would cite if you’re looking for innovative ideas about the future.

Another major campaign event for Nunn was her endorsement last week by another storied name from Georgia’s past, former governor and senator Zell Miller. Miller’s even older than Sam Nunn, turning 82 earlier this year. Although Miller is well-known to Georgians of a certain age, it has also been a while since his name was on an election ballot—that was back in 2000.

The dominant images of Michelle Nunn’s campaign are two aging politicians who have been out of office a long time and may not be that familiar to a younger generation of voters. I’m not sure that’s the best way to send the message that your campaign is all about the future. That may also be part of the reason why David Perdue, the Republican nominee in this election, has edged ahead of Nunn in recent Senate race polls.

Another lesson I’ve learned concerns elections that involve an incumbent, as is the case with the governor’s race. If you’re an incumbent, you run on your record. If you’re the challenger, you run against the incumbent’s record. You would expect to see that dynamic in the contest between Gov. Nathan Deal and his Democratic challenger, state Sen. Jason Carter.

Rather than talk about his record of the past four years, however, Deal seems to be much more interested in making the race all about Jason Carter’s 89-year-old grandfather, former president Jimmy Carter. Deal seems to do little else than criticize the younger Carter because of Jimmy Carter’s views on the current conflict in the Middle East between Israel and Hamas militants. Jason Carter says he does not share his grandfather’s opinion on numerous issues, including Israel and the Middle East, but that hasn’t stopped the attacks.

There are many important issues that will confront the next governor, whoever he is. How does the state make up for funding cutbacks to public schools that total more than $7 billion over the past decade? How do we fix our crumbling highways and bridges when Georgia spends less than almost every other state on its transportation infrastructure?  What do we do about an unemployment rate that has started to increase again?

Deal should be telling the voters what he’s done about those issues already and what he would do in a second term. Carter should be telling the voters what he would be doing differently from the current governor if he were to be elected. What Jimmy Carter thinks about the Middle East is irrelevant to the severe problems that are facing Georgia—so why are we wasting time talking about him in this governor’s race?

Apparently, the candidates have some lessons to learn.