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Bill Shipp - Donkeys fizzle again

As Georgia's 2008 political campaign scene develops, the missed opportunity for state Democrats becomes increasingly clear. A recent poll showed competition in a Georgia presidential campaign for the first time since 1996.

The sorry mess made by Republicans nationally, African-American enthusiasm for Barack Obama's candidacy and former Cobb County Republican Congressman Bob Barr's nomination for president by Libertarians point to a perfect storm for Georgia Democrats to blow back into office. Some folks may cheer at this preview, but it is just not going to happen.

The local donkeys lack the get-up-and-go, not to mention the sound judgment, to join the comeback.

You can see red lights pop on all across the Georgia map, as Democrats miss one victory opportunity after another.

The latest disappointment came when state Sen. Joe Carter, R-Tifton, announced that he would forego re-election to the Legislature to run for a local Superior Court judgeship. When Carter qualifies to run for the seat on the bench, he must withdraw as a candidate for the Senate. Had Democrats qualified anyone at all against Carter before the primary deadline, they might have picked up another legislative seat by default. Instead, qualifying will be reopened, giving Republicans the opportunity to replace Carter on the ballot.

Republicans are also chortling about other potential bullets they did not have to bother to dodge, because the Democrats never fired them. For example, GOP insiders admit that state Rep. Gene Maddox, R-Cairo, would have been a goner in a Democratic tidal wave. He, too, is unopposed.

In DeKalb County, State Rep. Jill Chambers, R-Dunwoody, represents the only DeKalb legislative seat that was won by John Kerry in 2004. She seemed vulnerable in the coming counter attack. Finally, Democrats got busy to make sure she would soon be a goner. They recruited Cecilia Hailey to oppose her.

Unfortunately for Democrats, Hailey has a felony conviction for writing a bad check, and at the time she entered the race, she had an outstanding felony arrest warrant for writing another bad check last December. Hailey has been sued multiple times for failing to pay bills, has an outstanding lien against her for failure to pay state income taxes and recently lost her South DeKalb home to her mortgage lender. She has a primary opponent, but the state Democratic Party and Democratic legislative leaders have been strangely unwilling to say that a convicted felon is an unacceptable nominee in a district that is among their best (and few) opportunities to knock off a Republican legislator.

As a woman in a DeKalb County Democratic primary, Hailey has to be considered likely to win the nomination unless Democrats publicly intervene.

Moving up the ballot, things look no better. Rep. Jim Marshall, D-Macon, a perennial GOP target, is already facing an onslaught from Freedom's Watch, an advocacy group set up by former Bush White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. Grassroots Democrats appear petrified at the sight of the oncoming Republican mowing machine - even in a year when one would think the blades would be somewhat dull.

The U.S. Senate race is also troublesome for Democrats. Fearing the effect of their Senate nomination going to controversial DeKalb County CEO Vernon Jones, Democrats recruited Jim Martin, the party's 2006 nominee for lieutenant governor, into the race. Martin was state commissioner of human resources and a longtime Atlanta state House member.

Democrats were enthused to have an experienced (if unsuccessful) statewide candidate, especially one with a substantial fund-raising base among affluent Atlanta liberals and lawyers.

Handwringing has replaced that enthusiasm as Democrats watch Martin's seemingly sluggish effort. Many now question whether his campaign is forceful enough to overcome Jones' African-American base in the primary.

Democrats might have been better off backing TV-guy Dale Cardwell, who is loaded with energy and ideas but has received little money or encouragement from Democratic organizers. They say Cardwell has too little experience at politics. That might be the case, but at least he has no experience as a loser.

The following anecdote may best place in a nutshell Georgia Democrats' ineptitude. When the party opened an Athens office, no one bothered to notify the media to celebrate and draw attention to its presence. As a result, there was no news coverage to spread word to the locals that the Democrats were in town. After the gala opening without reporters, a Democratic functionary found the media invitations still waiting to be mailed.

Tidal-wave elections come around once in a political generation. The Democrats might have one in 2008, but without good surfers in the water, Georgia Democrats look likely to miss their chance to catch it.

You can reach Bill Shipp at P.O. Box 2520, Kennesaw, GA 30156, e-mail: shipp1@bellsouth.net, or Web address: billshipponline.com.