"Mark Taylor could be the Democratic lineman who sacks Ralph Reed before the Republican quarterback ever gets out of the backfield."
"Taylor should run for re-election as lieutenant governor. He may be the only Democrat capable of keeping Reed from becoming lieutenant governor. Taylor could be the toast of the resurging national Democrats. He could write his own ticket when Democrats regain control of Washington. He could be remembered as the guy who saved America - er, ah, the Democrats, that is - from Ralph Reed."
Gubernatorial candidate Taylor is hearing those tempting lines from two distinctive Democratic Party cohorts.
First, of course, Secretary of State Cathy Cox's folks would like to avoid a bruising primary battle against Taylor for the Democratic nomination for governor next year. They would be overjoyed to support Taylor's re-election bid. And they have told him so. (Just a few months ago, some Republicans invited Cox to run on their ticket for lieutenant governor.)
A second and perhaps more frantic group of Democrats is pleading with Taylor to seek a third term as lieutenant governor. These folks are determined to stop Reed before he gains the first rung of power in elective politics.
A month ago, the same group tried to persuade former Sen. Max Cleland to go for lieutenant governor. Ten days ago, Cleland phoned state Democratic chairman Bobby Kahn to tell him, "Thanks, but no thanks."
So the Democratic strategists were left with only a couple of barely known ex-legislators to take up the cudgel against the potential Republican giant.
That some Democrats would call on Taylor to retreat from his established gubernatorial campaign may be a sign of desperation. Over the long haul, some Democrats see Reed as a greater threat to their return to power than, say, the underachieving Gov. Sonny Perdue or dictatorial House Speaker Glenn Richardson.
The donkeys are not alone in their wish to stop Reed. A handful of determined Republicans want no part of the charismatic evangelical leader who would use Georgia as a stepping-stone. GOP state Sen. Casey Cagle, a seeming straight shooter from Gainesville, also is running for lieutenant governor. His main campaign theme: "Stop Reed!"
Cagle's guys contend Reed's association with just-indicted Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff is a liability for the entire Republican Party.
In an e-mail to party activists last week, Cagle campaign aide Joel McElhannon wrote: "The clear political reality is that the Abramoff-Reed scandal is mud that will be splashed by state and national Democrats on every Republican candidate from our local candidates to our governor." McElhannon noted that Abramoff's notoriety is already being used in a Democratic TV blitz in Montana to unseat GOP incumbent Sen. Conrad Burns.
In fairness, it should be noted that Reed's name was not mentioned in connection with Abramoff's latest problem: A federal indictment charging him with conspiracy and wire fraud in applying for loans to buy a Florida-based gambling-ship company that later went bankrupt.
Meanwhile, back in the Taylor camp, the invitation to defend the lieutenant governor's office against the GOP contains a definite upside. A growing perception that Cox has momentum in the governor's race is not helping Taylor's fundraising activities. Last week, 51 Democratic House members plus one independent endorsed Cox for governor. Taylor was able to muster only one supporting state senator, J. B. Powell of Augusta, to answer the endorsement salvo, although a couple of senators signed on with Taylor earlier.
Still, with the primary 11 months away, Taylor's brain trust believes the incumbent can corner the black vote and some rural whites plus a bloc of disillusioned teachers to win the nomination. Besides, Taylor has paid his dues with a 19-year career in the Senate, where he has often been the point man in down-and-dirty fights over health care and education issues. No ranking lawmaker or presiding officer has a better record of standing up for the downtrodden. Unfortunately for Taylor, helping the helpless seldom translates into a Georgia election victory.
The opportunity to square off against a budding Goliath in a nationally watched state contest may come along only once in a career. Even so, though Taylor has seriously considered the get-Ralph assignment, the betting here is that he will not switch races. Democratic coaches next week and even next year will still be looking for a player big enough to knock down Reed.
No matter what his critics say, Reed's relationship with Washington lobbyist Abramoff, as it is reported, is not enough to deny him an election victory. As the old political saw goes, "You can't beat somebody with nobody."
Syndicated columnist Bill Shipp writes on Georgia politics. Write him at P.O. Box 440755, Kennesaw, GA 30160, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org . His Web site is www.billshipp.com . His column appears on Wednesday and Sunday.