The dance card is filling up quickly for next year’s race for governor. If that seems a little early, it’s because it is. But that’s how the political process rolls these days. We are in the era of the eternal campaign.
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle has been planning this for the past 12 years—that moment when he would finally launch his Republican campaign for governor. Cagle is pushing the kind of economic development issues you’d expect: He wants to add 500,000 new jobs during his first term while promoting a $100 million tax cut and developing a strategic plan for Georgia’s transportation infrastructure. In other words, he’s basically promising a third term of Nathan Deal, but with some inflated promises about new jobs.
Katy Foody of the Associated Press did some digging into that jobs pledge and reported: “State Department of Labor data shows Georgia has added a net total of 267,100 jobs in the last decade, accounting for the enormous job losses that followed the recession that began in 2008. In the last six years, employers added nearly 518,000 jobs to help the state dig out from a deep hole.” In short, it is not realistic to expect Cagle or any governor to add 500,000 jobs in four years.
Cagle is taking the Zell Miller approach to running for governor. Miller served four terms as lieutenant governor while he waited for his chance to run for the state’s highest office, an opportunity that finally came in 1990. Cagle has been lieutenant governor for three terms as he piled up pledges and put the pieces together for a statewide run.
At this early point, Cagle would be considered the frontrunner in the Republican primary, but he will definitely not have a cleared field. Secretary of State Brian Kemp and state Sen. Hunter Hill (R-Atlanta) are running, while state Sen. Michael Williams (R-Cumming) is making moves in that direction. Don’t be surprised if you see a couple of retired congressmen get into the GOP primary race—Jack Kingston or Lynn Westmoreland.
On the Democratic side, House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams (D-Atlanta) has already filed the paperwork to register a campaign organization for the governor’s race next year. Another potential Democratic candidate is state Rep. Stacey Evans (D-Smyrna). Like Abrams, she is a talented young lawyer who has shown some impressive potential in her four terms as a lawmaker. Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, a Democratic officeholder with a lot of upside, has taken herself out of the governor’s race but says she is looking at a run for the U.S. Senate in 2020.
One of the most intriguing possibilities out there involves Republican strategist Nick Ayers, who has never run for office himself but is said to be considering the governor’s race. Ayers got his start working for Sonny Perdue in the 2002 governor’s race as a kid barely out of high school, and later made a name for himself inside the Beltway through his work at the Republican Governors Association. He’s had some stumbles along the way, including a DUI arrest and a stint with a presidential campaign for Tim Pawlenty that went nowhere.
If Ayers does decide to run, it would stir memories of another race more than a decade ago when another political activist with no elective experience decided to run for statewide office. That was Ralph Reed, the guy who put together the Christian Coalition. Reed jumped into the 2006 race for lieutenant governor, hoping to use his name recognition to win that office and then run for governor. Reed got spanked in the Republican primary, a loss so humiliating that he never ran for public office again. The person who beat him was a fellow named... Casey Cagle.
And thus does our politics come full circle.