Sam Olens might be hard to beat for governor next year, if he had a $10 million-plus campaign war chest and established statewide fame.
At the moment, Sam has neither. He is chairman of the Cobb County Commission and active in metro Atlanta government. When it comes to dealing with traffic, the environment and social problems, Sam is a local-government policy wonk of the first order. However, his association with metro Atlanta and his pointy-headed view of the problems surrounding us may be too hard to overcome, even with a gazillion-dollar advertising campaign. Brains are more of a liability than an asset in a big part of the Georgia electorate.
Still, Olens is testing the waters for a full-fledged run at the Republican nomination for governor in 2010. Though Olens has a splendid reputation as a county executive, he is at best a long, long shot at securing his place in the governor's mansion.
Bill Byrne, a former Cobb commission chairman, ran for governor in 2002, and Sonny Perdue and company trampled him in the GOP primary. Olens might face the same fate, except the Republicans don't have another Perdue to run in 2010, and Perdue, by law, cannot run for a third term.
Secretary of State Karen Handel and Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine have been warming up for the Republican primary for months, but I suspect that their name recognition among activists is only slightly higher than Olens'. Besides, Olens' positive rating among people who know him goes through the roof.
We shall soon know whether Olens is serious or just kicking the tires. Shortly after the 2009 General Assembly adjourns, hats will start flying into the political ring.
Olens has indicated that he will announce his intentions after the lawmakers head for home and he conducts a listening tour across Georgia. No matter what Sam tries, he won't be the star.
Most political eyes will be turned on ex-Gov. Roy Barnes: Will he or won't he announce for a second term?
Barnes controls the big-money spigot in the governor's race. If he decides that being governor again is not in his future, voters might see as many as a dozen candidates leap into the contest.
If Barnes announces for another term, he would immediately soak up much of the money and pledges that would be available to Democrats. The field of candidates from both parties would shrink considerably.
Congressmen who have leaked their names for governor will return to defending the utterances of Rush Limbaugh and trying to find a slot on The Colbert Report.
Another Democrat or two - say, for example, former Adjutant General David Poythress - may stay in the Democratic race as the anti-Barnes alternative. With a solid record of public service, Poythress may find some political hedge cash.
Another interesting footnote: Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond, the first statewide black officeholder to win election as a nonincumbent, might run for lieutenant governor on a ticket with Barnes.
If you believe freelance writer Maria Saporta (and I never doubt her), think about this recent report: "Thurmond, who has strong name recognition across the state and has been a popular labor commissioner, would be able to bring out the African-American vote. And it's likely Thurmond is waiting to get a signal from Barnes."
Thurmond is no Obama when it comes to campaigning, but he is a skilled veteran of both the legislative and executive branches of government. The same forces that triggered a record turnout of African Americans last Nov. 4 would probably go to bat for a Barnes-Thurmond ticket.
Of course, the Olens ploy and a Barnes-Thurmond ticket may turn out to be nothing more than Saporta and me playing with blue smoke and mirrors, but we can still hold out hope that Georgia is ready for the 21st century and a hasty return to progress.
You can reach Bill Shipp at P.O. Box 2520, Kennesaw, GA 30156, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, or Web address: billshipponline.com.