Friday, February 18, 2005

The Man Who Would Be Lieutenant Governor

As my colleague The Moose reported earlier today, Ralph Reed gave Georgia Democrats something to get excited about by officially announcing his candidacy for Lieutenant Governor in 2006. This race, folks, will be more fun than a barrel of monkeys at a creationism conference.

Why, you might ask, is the Lordly Ralph, the legendary architect of Christian Right politics and more recently the extremely successful Georgia GOP chairman and Bush-Cheney strategist, so interested in presiding over the Georgia State Senate? In an earlier post, I suggested that he may be the victim of the Raquel Welch Syndrome, the natural if often hopeless desire to become respected as a serious practitioner of one's chosen art, whether it's acting or governing. But I've since learned that Reed has harbored a burning ambition since childhood to serve as Chief Executive of the Empire State of the South, and views the LG job as a stepping stone to that Seat of Power, a necessity since one of his political makeover projects, Governor Sonny Perdue, is running for re-election in '06.

But first Ralph must overcome a primary challenge from another guy who's been seeing a future Governor in the bathroom mirror since he became old enough to reach the sink, Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, the scion of a well-known political family who's been elected statewide three times. The first published polls show Oxendine with a healthy lead over Reed. And he will not readily concede Christian Right support to Ralph: in his first race for Insurance Commissioner back in 1994, Oxendine's big proposal was to exempt churches from paying some state tax on insurance policies, arguing that he didn't want to "tax God" (you just can't make this stuff up).

But I suspect that Oxendine's campaign against Reed will be, to paraphrase Hunter S. Thompson, "like sending out a three-toed sloth to take turf from a wolverine." With all due respect to the Insurance Commissioner, he's not exactly a Big Strategic Thinker. In fact, he'd probably draw even odds in a game of State Capitals with Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore, the guy who's besmirching my surname in his campaign for governor this year.

Should Reed dispatch Oxendine, the real fun will begin. Former state legislator Greg Hecht, who ran a respectable but losing campaign for Congress in 2002, has already announced for the Democratic nomination. But the buzz is that Hecht will likely face one of my favorite politicians, Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond. Thurmond is a smart, charming, funny, and accomplished African-American with a proven track record of biracial appeal (he used to joke that he did particularly well in heavily-white counties bordering South Carolina where they thought he was Strom Thurmond's grandson).

If Reed is the GOPer in the race, the Democratic nominee, whoever it is, will have no trouble raising money in-state and nationally, and will need no more than fifteen minutes to compile an oppo-research file so toxic that they'll have to handle it with tongs. Indeed, Oxendine aside, the biggest obstacle to a Reed candidacy may be the possibility that Ralph will have to take crucial time off the campaign trail to cool his heels in various courtrooms and congressional hearing-rooms preparing to explain his alleged role in the ever-widening Abramoff Indian Tribe Casino Shakedown scandal, a truly bizarre tale of corruption and hypocrisy that is likely to tranfix the whole hep political world at some point this year. I'm not the only one who's looking forward to the moment when Reed has to testify before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee chaired by Sen. John McCain, the object of the famous 2000 South Carolina primary smear-and-whispering campaign by Bush operatives, reportedly under the direction of one Ralph Reed.

If that's not enough intrigue to keep you bookmarking that Atlanta Journal-Constitution web page (or checking out Reed's exceptionally cheesy campaign site), there's additional irony in Ralph's aspiration to become Lieutenant Governor of Georgia. In between his better-known gigs with the Christian Coalition, the 2002 Georgia coordinated campaign, and the two Bush campaigns, Ralph tried his hand at being a down-home paid political consultant. In 1998, he was the key strategist for a Republican candidate for Lieutenant Governor named Mitch Scandalakis, who ran a series of ads that (a) made an overt racial appeal, and (b) accused his opponent, Mark Taylor, of a completely fabricated cocaine addiction. Not only did Ralph's candidate get righteously stomped like a Klansman at a Hip-Hop club; the backlash against his tactics took down most of the whole state Republican ticket.

If that's not enough irony for you, there's this: when Ralph's Republican buddies took over the state Senate in 2003, they stripped the Lieutenant Governor's Office--occupied by the self-same smear target Mark Taylor--of most of its considerable powers. If Ralph somehow wins, he will have to go back to those same senators (assuming his party hangs onto control) and explain why he needs to lord it over them with powers denied to his predecessor.

All in all, it's going to be a wild ride.
-- Posted at 4:31 PM | Link to this post | Email this post

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