Can Barnes or Ox­en­dine be stopped?

The Covington News - - Front page -

John Ox­en­dine and Roy Barnes have been con­sis­tent lead­ers in their re­spec­tive pri­maries in the race for gover­nor. With the July 20 pri­mary only six weeks away, can they keep their leads and se­cure the nom­i­na­tions?

Barnes is the easy call right now in the Demo­cratic p r i m a r y. The for­mer gover­nor has main­tained a strong lead in all the early polls, even if not so far ahead that he might win it on July 20. He also has been able to raise more money than any other can­di­date, Demo­cratic or Repub­li­can.

There was one re­cent poll that claimed Barnes had the sup­port of 64 per­cent of likely Demo­cratic vot­ers, but that does not sound plau­si­ble. Most of the other polls have Barnes a few points be­low 50 per­cent, and his key sup­port­ers are care­ful to say they think he will be pushed into a runoff elec­tion.

The other Democrats are ex­pe­ri­enced can­di­dates who have won many races in their po­lit­i­cal ca­reers: At­tor­ney Gen­eral Thurbert Baker, vet­eran leg­is­la­tor DuBose Porter, and re­tired ad­ju­tant gen­eral David Poythress. You won­der why some of them did not run in other statewide races where they would have had a more re­al­is­tic shot at win­ning.

On the Repub­li­can side, the race is a lit­tle more com­pet­i­tive.

Ox­en­dine hired some new con­sul­tants last spring and has run a more dis­ci­plined cam­paign in re­cent weeks, avoid­ing pub­lic dis­putes and act­ing like a fron­trun­ner. The con­ven­tional wis­dom last year was that Ox­en­dine would “im­plode” at some point and his cam­paign would col­lapse, but that hasn’t hap­pened.

“He’s re­al­ized that this is a marathon, not a sprint,” said a cam­paign con­sul­tant.

One is­sue hang­ing over the Ox­en­dine cam­paign is the $120,000 that a few in­surance com­pa­nies sent to him last year through a se­ries of po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tees based in Alabama. The State Ethics Com­mis­sion sched­uled a June 24 hear­ing on those dis­puted con­tri­bu­tions, which is less than four weeks be­fore elec­tion day. If the hear­ing is not post­poned, it may do some dam­age to the Ox­en­dine cam­paign and pro­vide a boost for his com­peti­tors.

For­mer con­gress­man Nathan Deal has sur­vived un­fa­vor­able pub­lic­ity and a House ethics com­mit­tee scold­ing over an auto sal­vage busi­ness he owns that did busi­ness for years with the state. While he still trails Ox­en­dine among Repub­li­can vot­ers, a re­cent poll showed Deal run­ning slightly bet­ter against Barnes in a gen­eral elec­tion matchup than any of the other GOP con­tenders.

For­mer sec­re­tary of state Karen Han­del runs neckand-neck with Deal in the fight for sec­ond place and a spot in the GOP runoff, but she still has had her prob­lems with fundrais­ing.

Han­del was in the news over the past week be­cause of a dis­agree­ment with Ge­or­gia Right to Life, the state’s lead­ing anti-abor­tion or­ga­ni­za­tion. Her more mod­er­ate po­si­tion on abor­tion could help Han­del in a gen­eral elec­tion cam­paign against the Demo­cratic nom­i­nee, but it could cause her prob­lems among the more con­ser­va­tive vot­ers who dom­i­nate the Repub­li­can pri­mary.

For­mer state sen­a­tor Eric John­son has raised more money in this pri­mary than any­body but Ox­en­dine and is con­sid­ered by some to be the tough­est op­po­nent the Repub­li­cans could field against Roy Barnes. I’ve heard vari­a­tions of this state­ment from sev­eral po­lit­i­cal ob­servers: “Barnes maybe can beat Ox­en­dine or Han­del, but he couldn’t beat John­son.”

John­son’s prob­lem is that he still can’t break out of the sin­gle dig­its in the early polls of likely Repub­li­can vot­ers.

With such a crowded Repub­li­can pri­mary field — there are seven can­di­dates in all — you would ex­pect them to have started at­tack­ing each other with neg­a­tive TV ads by now, but that has not been the case.

Money is scarce in this re­ces­sion year and can­di­dates are hav­ing to hold back on their bar­rage of TV com­mer­cials un­til elec­tion day gets closer. You can look for hard-hit­ting at­tack ads to start air­ing in the fi­nal two weeks be­fore July 20.

There also ap­pear to be a lot of Repub­li­can vot­ers who sim­ply haven’t made up their minds yet — as many as one-third of those polled in re­cent sur­veys are still in the un­de­cided col­umn.

Barnes and Ox­en­dine, for now, re­main the fron­trun­ners in their pri­maries. If some­body hopes to knock ei­ther of them off, there isn’t much time left.

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