Jun. 8, 2009: Barnes Bid For Governor May Be Tougher Than Pundits Think


Whoa! Whoa! Hold on a second. Yes, I know former Gov. Roy Barnes has announced he is running again in 2010 but before all the political pundits, pollsters and press give him the job, there is the little matter of getting elected first. It is called democracy and that is where the people – you and I – come in. We will make that decision. Not the pundits. Not the pollsters. Not the press.

I keep reading that the “big money” is going to Barnes’ campaign. For the most part, those are the dollars that come from a gullible business community that always tries to bet on the sure thing and doesn’t always succeed. I have spent a lot of years in and around business and politics and I have never seen business get the kind of return on their investment in political races that they expected. Most politicians take their money and run.

Let me pause here to say I like Roy Barnes. He knows state government like the back of his hand, is brighter than a neon sign and has a boatload of charisma. In addition, he is a good person. My family and I treasure his thoughtfulness when our grandson died. He has been more than peeved with me on several occasions over some of my barbs, but that didn’t stop him from reaching out to us when we needed it most. That tells you a lot about the man.

Now, let’s talk about what it is going to take for him to win the Democratic primary and then the general election. First, he needs to discourage the perception that he is the absolute front-runner. If there is anything that will unite all the other candidates currently running for governor – Democrat and Republican — it is to bring Barnes back into the pack with them, however they have to do it. When I was a youngster in the telephone business, my mentor Jasper Dorsey told me that the best way to never become president of Southern Bell was to tell people that someday you would be. Your colleagues might never become president, but they would make sure you didn’t, either. The same thing applies in politics. Plus, voters don’t care much for being told that someone is a virtual shoo-in for election. Ask Ralph Reed.

Second, he has got to show humility and contriteness in the campaign. Barnes has said already that he didn’t listen well in his one term and will do better the next time, but the proof will be in whether or not the people of Georgia believe him. He doesn’t need to fall on a sword, but neither should he pass it off as a joke. Save the cornpone act for Gomer Pyle and Sonny Perdue. This is the key issue to voters.

Third – and he isn’t going to like this – Roy Barnes needs to exile his former campaign strategist and alter ego Bobby Kahn to Timbuktu until the election is over. It has already been announced that Kahn won’t be running the campaign, but you can bet your bippy he will be lurking around the inner circle making few friends for the former governor. Bobby Kahn is a decent guy personally but politically he is Marquis de Sade and Snidely Whiplash rolled into one. In my not-so-humble opinion, it was Kahn’s campaign strategies that got Roy Barnes defeated the last time, not the teachers unions or the flaggers. And even if they were responsible, whose fault is that?

The 2010 elections are a long way off and a lot can happen between now and then. Roy Barnes’ quest for the governor’s office is going to be more of an uphill battle than many think it will be. There are a lot of folks around the state who are still mad at him and it is going to take considerable effort to turn them around. Will former Gov. Barnes be a formidable and attractive candidate? Absolutely. He could regain the governor’s office. But this may not be the slam-dunk the media would have you believe. Let’s not schedule the coronation ceremony just yet.