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Elections may tip balance of power

ATLANTA --- The makeup of the ballot shows how unusual this election is and provides evidence of how much Georgia is changing.

For one thing, it's already clear that South Georgia has lost much of its influence. The remaining candidates for U.S. Senate and governor are all from above the Gnat Line.

Veteran politicians from below the line saw their careers and hopes sputter as the primary returns were counted July 20, including Democrats Dubose Porter and David Poythress from Middle Georgia and Republicans Eric Johnson and Jeff Chapman from the Coast.

Another South Georgia giant fell in the Democratic primary for labor commissioner, former House Speaker Terry Coleman of Eastman to metro Atlantan Darryl Hicks, at least unless a challenge changes the decision.

The only candidates from below the Fall Line remaining on the statewide ballot are Democrats Ken Hodges of Albany, the nominee for attorney general, and J.B. Powell of Blythe near Augusta, the nominee for agriculture commissioner.

Interestingly, the Athens area has an unusually strong presence with Mike Thurmond, a Democrat for U.S. Senate; Ralph Hudgens in the GOP runoff for insurance commissioner; and Tim Echols, in the Republican runoff for public service commissioner.

Gainesville could become a powerbase if Nathan Deal is elected governor and Casey Cagle is re-elected lieutenant governor. Having House Speaker David Ralston from just over the ridge in Blue Ridge would consolidate power in the Northern part of the state.

It's been common for the northern and southern parts of the state to engage in a tug-of-war over resources. In the past, it was usually transportation funding, the location of state facilities and industrial recruitment. Now, added to that list is water.

A politician can be expected to favor the hometown, but those tendencies are usually balanced by having to appease voters in other regions and other powerful politicians who want to favor their own hometowns. If most of the elected officials and most of the votes are from the same part of the state, the last element in that balancing act is campaign contributions.

With two-thirds of the state's voters living in North Georgia, the parade of South Georgia governors may be ending. It included Sonny Perdue, Jimmy Carter, George Busbee, Carl Sanders, Herman and Eugene Talmadge, Marvin Griffin and others.

Recent years have already seen Joe Frank Harris, Zell Miller and Roy Barnes from the northern end of the state, but what is especially noticeable is the likely end of the state's allergy to Atlanta-area politicians.

No governor in a century has been from Atlanta except for Lester Maddox, who was elected in the House of Representatives when Bo Callaway beat him in the voting booth but didn't get a majority while ex-Gov. Ellis Arnall ran as a write-in.

If Karen Handel or Roy Barnes wins in November, it will demonstrate metro Atlanta has the mass to overcome the rest of Georgia's dislike of the state's megopolis. When Barnes won in 1998, he was thought of more as being from the sleepy town of Mableton than from metro Atlanta, but Handel's Fulton County base leaves no room for doubt.

Her election or that of fellow Republican Deal would mark another departure in recent practice - - again excepting Maddox. Georgia's governors have been coming out of the General Assembly or lieutenant governor's office which presides over the Senate.

Deal's triumph could also break the jinx of the two men named Bo, Callaway and Ginn, who both came close but failed to win the post from a seat in Congress. Members of Congress, even those like Deal who had once served in the legislature, could never muster the statewide political channels that statehouse lawmakers have access to through their colleagues.

In many ways, Johnson seemed the most likely candidate this year because he had been a legislative leader with a network of colleagues supporting him. That network couldn't overcome Handel's Fulton County base and metro-Atlanta name awareness or Deal's success in drawing on his pals in the Georgia congressional delegation.

Likewise, a Barnes victory would be a rare instance of a former governor regaining his old office, something Maddox, Arnall. He's the only modern governor ever voted out of office.

Either Handel, Deal or Barnes is going to be inaugurated in January, so some of these unique scenarios will occur. What is more significant is the likelihood that they'll start a pattern that could freeze out the old centers of power.

(Walter Jones is the Atlanta bureau chief for Morris News. He can be reached at (404) 589-8424 or

Web posted on Thursday, August 05, 2010

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