What others say: Georgia governor’s race plays at identity politics

  • Wednesday, May 23, 2018 9:24am
  • Opinion

says state governor candidates are playing identity politics:

To hold your nose and vote is one thing.

To suck your thumb and pout at the polls is another.

Many Georgians may face that sad reality going into next Tuesday’s primary. The candidates at the top of the ballot – those running for governor – should leave all but the most partisan voters depressed.

Most have thin leadership resumes, and instead of telling us how they can make a good state better, they’ve latched on to a few hashtag-trending issues. They are preying on our fears and anger rather than stoking our hopes with their focus on identity politics: guns, God and scholarships for the working class and underprivileged.

The field’s last chance to inspire started last week. The Staceys, Democrats Abrams and Evans, debated in a forum Monday hosted by the Atlanta Press Club and televised by Georgia Public Broadcasting. The six Republican candidates squared off at 7 p.m. Thursday in their final televised debate.

Maybe the hopefuls seized this last opportunity to trumpet their ideas and insights on a broader range of issues, like economic development or infrastructure or primary education.

They might even attempt to portray a sense of optimism. For a state many consider to be on the come, Georgia seemingly sits on one of Dante’s outer rings if these so-called leaders are to be believed.

Don’t count on a shift in message.

Runner-up isn’t first loser in the Republican primary race. Finishing second is potentially a survive-and-advance situation, as the frontrunner, current Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, lacks broad enough support to avoid a July runoff, according to polling.

Cagle’s main rivals see a head-to-head showdown as their only path to the nomination and have spent much of the last month positioning themselves to the right of the staunchly conservative Cagle.

Brian Kemp runs an ad where he points a shotgun in the direction of a teenage boy to underscore his love for family and the Second Amendment. Then he doubles down with a spot where he brags about the size of the pickup truck he owns “just in case I need to round up criminal illegals and take ‘em home myself.”

Hunter Hill is a bit more tasteful, tailoring his pitch to Evangelicals. The former Army Ranger is a man of prayer and a leader on the battlefield in his recent ads. But he’s also run TV spots depicting him loading ammo into an assault rifle and questioning the need for carry permits.

The candidate polling fourth, Clay Tippins, has plenty to campaign on. He’s a successful businessman and a former Navy SEAL. But he’s recently given voters reason to question his judgment by labeling Hill – again, an Army Ranger who served three combat tours – as “Benedict Arnold” for his gun positions.

The pandering may end up backfiring, driving more voters to Cagle. Polls have him at approximately 40 percent, but a significant number of undecided voters remain. He needs only 50 percent of the vote, plus one, to ensure his next race will be this fall, not this summer.

The Democratic primary is a winner-take-all, but like the Republicans pursuing the frontrunner, Abrams and Evans are fixated on specific voting blocks.

For the Staceys, the primary is about African-Americans and suburban soccer moms. Abrams is focused on turnout and has been tirelessly campaigning in neighborhoods and communities heavy with African-American residents.

Evans has made the race solely about the HOPE scholarship. She sees Abrams, the former minority leader in the state legislature, as complicit in the move to tighten standards for the merit-based financial aid a decade ago. Restoring the original HOPE standards will make college a reality for more working class and underprivileged children, Evans’ reasoning goes.

HOPE has so come to dominate this race that one of the state’s most influential Democrats, Michael Owens, recently tried to steer a debate between the two away from the topic in order to talk “about other things Democrats might be interested in hearing about,” as he put it in a recent interview on Georgia Public Broadcasting.

He was unsuccessful.

Leadership is tricky. As John C. Maxwell said, “a leader knows the way, goes the way and shows the way.” Tune in tonight and Thursday and watch for leaders among the bunch. And get familiar with how your thumb tastes.

— Savannah Morning News, May 14, 2018

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