According to many readers, the last Evans Report entitled Georgia Gubernatorial Candidates and Presidential Politics begged the question (without answering) of exactly who are the leading potential 2018 gubernatorial candidates for the Democrats and Republicans. With Governor Nathan Deal term limited, there will be no incumbent governor on the 2018 General Election ballot.
In one way, it will be much like the 2016 Presidential Election where President Barack Obama is term limited with the effect of drawing a plethora of candidates filling the debate stages and generating all kinds of interest. Yet, in one important way, it is different.
Quite commonly in Presidential elections, one party or the other has a candidate whose turn has come. Unfortunately, these candidates do not do very well when their turn comes. Senator Bob Dole in 1996, Senator John McCain in 2008, Senator Hillary Clinton in 2008, and Governor Mitt Romney in 2012 all lost after “waiting their turn” at a chance for the Presidency.
In this year’s presidential election, many say the same thing about former Secretary of State Clinton – it is her turn to be the Democratic nominee for President- likely to the same result. No such candidate exists on the Republican side. The closest to a ‘waited his turn’ candidate is former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who remains stuck near the bottom of the pack as many express serious doubts about his ability to even make next year’s stretch run.
But, in the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election, no one appears to fit the bill for a ‘next in line’ candidate to become Georgia’s next governor. On the other hand, the Democratic and Republican stables appear to be full of not just candidates, but – more importantly – strong contenders for Georgia’s highest office.
Oddly enough, most of them are shy away from talk about Georgia gubernatorial runs in the future, and especially in 2018. But, their actions betray their words with schedules packed with public events and frequent visits with some of Georgia’s most influential political leaders. This is a trend even more pronounced for among Democrats than the Republicans.
No one could seriously project a 2018 Democratic gubernatorial nomination field without mentioning 2014 Democratic Senatorial nominee Michelle Nunn and 2014 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jason Carter. Although both were handily defeated by the GOP 2014 juggernaut, no one discounts the strength and backing of the campaigns they built.
In interviews, both Nunn and Carter make short shrift of potential statewide runs in 2018. But, true to their respective pedigrees as the daughter of former Senator Sam Nunn and grandson of former President Jimmy Carter, both continue to keep a pace indicative of a future candidate.
It could be possible that either or both decide not to run. Do not bet on it. The platforms and networks each has built would give them the kind of head start needed to compete in a still-red state.
Then, there is Atlanta’s popular Mayor Kasim Reed. Working with Governor Deal, Mayor Reed has emerged as a thoughtful, steady leader focused on making Atlanta an increasingly better place to live. With little fanfare, his steady leadership has reshaped Atlanta from a fragmented metropolitan community of interests into a popular destination for businesses, tourists, and people relocating from other places.
Of course, there are also a host of state legislators including House Minority Leader Stacy Abrams waiting in the wings for the opportunity to lead. Add to that former Congressman John Barrow and an assortment of county commissioners and successful businessmen, and one thing will become clear. There will be no shortage of competitive Democratic candidates in the 2018 elections.
On the Republican side, candidates have been far less timid about their aspirations. Virtually every Republican can name three big candidates off the top of their head: Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle; Secretary of State Brian Kemp; and Attorney General Sam Olens. Former Congressman Jack Kingston has also stepped forward with his recent appointment as the Finance Chairman for the Georgia Republican Party, thereby keeping his brand alive.
Beyond these, some successful businessmen and women, in true Senator David Perdue fashion, are giving a statewide bid for governor a real hard look. Add to that list a few commissioners in some of Georgia’s largest counties and current Congressman Lynn Westmoreland, who could possibly throw his hat in the race, and we should have a real mix – reminiscent of the flock of candidates that started this year’s 2016 GOP Presidential nomination process.
Some of these will undoubtedly go off to serve in the federal government depending on which party’s Presidential nominee wins in 2016. Should former Secretary of State Clinton win, watch for Atlanta Mayor Reed to get the inside track on some plum positions. And, if a Republican wins, it would surprise no one to see Attorney General Sam Olens move to Washington, D.C. Even so, there will be plenty of candidates left in the running as 2017 rolls around.
Randy Evans is an attorney and columnist.