ATLANTA --- When John Oxendine refused to commit to campaign for the transportation-sales-tax amendment to the constitution during a forum of the June 15 Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, he was giving a hint about strategy.
At that same forum, Eric Johnson, Nathan Deal and Oxendine gave qualified acceptance of interbasin transfers of water from one river drainage area to another, at least under some circumstances. Karen Handel is taking the opposite tack. Both stances reveal something about their various strategies.
Strategy and execution will determine the next governor because none of the candidates has an overwhelming advantage, and now is when they're in full swing.
That's why at the Atlanta Chamber forum, Oxendine's answer puzzled those in the audience. The chamber, after all, was the most strident advocate for transportation funding, and candidates wanting the chamber vote would be expected to promise to work for ratification of the constitutional amendment next year to make it happen. Johnson, Deal and Handel did exactly that.
Handel, for example, counted her three years in local government as an asset she could use in convincing current local officials around the state to support the proposal.
"We must bring transportation in a robust way," she said.
Johnson also drew attention to his background. "As the architect and civil engineer in me, I love to build things," he said.
Oxendine, though, would only say he planned to focus on this year's campaign and not dwell on next year's.
"I'll be honest: right now I'm worried about securing the Republican nomination and winning the general election," he said. "I don't know exactly how active I will be in 2012. Will I vote for it? I will vote for it."
The hint he dropped was his intention to interpret the no-tax pledge all the Republican candidates signed as a prohibition against stumping for a sales-tax referendum.
His primary opponents could be on the defensive as a result.
The responses on the question of interbasin transfers showed Handel, as a metro-Atlanta candidate, must figure she'll pick up votes in downstream communities like Athens, Augusta, Brunswick, Savannah and Columbus by opposing her geographic base on this issue. Johnson, Deal and Oxendine risked alienating South Georgia while endearing themselves to vote-rich metro Atlanta.
Some of the moves in the chess match are blocks rather than captures. An example is what Sarah Palin won't be doing during her visit to Georgia for a gospel rally. She won't be endorsing Handel and giving her the same kind of boost that catapulted Nikki Haley in neighboring South Carolina to the GOP gubernatorial nomination earlier this month.
More than one of Handel's opponents made sure that the former vice-presidential nominee received a king-sized dose of research about evidence Handel once joined the gay-rights Log Cabin Republicans and was quoted supporting adoptions by homosexual couples and domestic-partner benefits. Palin might want to help a fellow woman but not one who appears to be less conservative.
The campaigns are attempting to pre-empt each other on key issues. Johnson may have introduced legislation in the state Senate to expand private-school tuition vouchers, but Oxendine has talked about vouchers every chance he gets. Deal may have sponsored legislation in the U.S. House to get tough on illegal aliens, but Johnson has fired a volley of press releases with his proposals to root out undocumented immigrants. Even Johnson's TV ad brings up illegals to generally paint him as the most ardent foe of President Obama, despite Deal's role in Congress sniping at the president's health-reform plan.
(Walter Jones is the Atlanta bureau chief for Morris News Service. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (404) 589-8424.)