Georgia political candidates are graded by a different standard from everyone else. A candidate for governor seldom receives an A for achievement. He may, in fact, receive a fat F at the polls for overachievement.
Gov. Sonny Perdue understands the Georgia gubernatorial grading system perhaps better than anyone. That may be why he has emerged far ahead in the first fundraising round of the 2006 election season. He has not risked bad marks by trying to do much or get out front on many meaningful issues.
With balloting still 16 months away, Perdue reported last week that he has already raised a whopping $7.6 million for his re-election campaign.
Obviously, the governor hasn't made many people mad, at least not angry enough to withhold funds.
He also has not lit too many fires of wild enthusiasm for his tenure. Perdue's Democratic opponents have collected a combined total of $5 million-plus to try to take him out of office.
"This is amazing," said Democratic spin doctors. "During the time (Democrats) Mark Taylor and Cathy Cox raised $5.4 million, Perdue raised only slightly more than $4 million. He received the other contributions before Cathy and Mark got into the race."
At this point, Democrats are looking for silver linings wherever they can find them.
While it is true that Lt. Gov. Taylor and Secretary of State Cox exceeded expectations, one small item should be remembered: The money may not matter.
The first campaign-disclosure report suggests every noncrank candidate will have enough funds for a campaign.
Besides, the lesson of former Gov. Roy Barnes' campaign lingers. Barnes spent nearly $20 million on his failed re-election campaign in 2002. Winner Perdue expended less than $3 million.
Perdue didn't have to campaign much. He let Barnes do it for him. With sweeping initiatives, Barnes engaged every major issue facing Georgians.
In doing so, he created hordes of enemies. Perdue has avoided the Barnes mistake.
When editorial writers refer to Perdue as the "do-nothing governor," our chief executive privately smiles - and yawns.
You won't catch Sonny proposing a Northern Arc to relieve traffic. Or trying to weed out incompetent teachers from the education system. Or demanding more spending on prison overcrowding. Or calling for tougher standards for law-enforcement officers.
As Barnes found out, seemingly little things translate into a lot of opposition.
That doesn't mean Sonny has not taken care of business - big business. Even there, he was careful not to step on too many toes. He let legislators do the heavy lifting on pushing through the last General Assembly session the complete agenda of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and the giant insurance lobby. Perdue mostly spoke in generalities.
When the governor appeared on the verge of showing leadership on several items and heard hostile fire, he ducked out of sight. He abandoned his own tax program, his first choice as House speaker, his anointed candidate for election to the Supreme Court, a University System in disarray, a prison system in serious trouble and a series of urban crises too complex to describe here.
He let education reform slide, side-stepped tough environmental issues and failed to follow through on important (but sticky) economic development projects.
Do not misinterpret the above as knocks on Perdue. Our compliments to the shrewd candidate. He practices safe politics. How will his opponents run against an incumbent who has done so little to run against?
He has created few targets to attack. There is no history in Georgia of a governor failing to win re-election because he did too little.
Some observers compare Perdue's inactivity to Gov. Joe Frank Harris' drowsy first term. Harris won re-election to a second and final term with only token opposition. Harris amassed more than 70 percent of the vote against a presentable Republican, Guy Davis, who could not even claim support from his own party's leadership. In 1986, Republicans thought do-little Democrat Harris was their kind of guy.
Contrast Harris' easy ride to Gov. Zell Miller's narrow escape from re-election defeat in 1994 - following an energetic first term. Miller gave us HOPE Scholarships, sales tax exemptions and income tax cuts, massive teacher pay raises plus a long list of transportation improvements and economic development initiatives. On re-election day 1994, he eked out a measly 51 percent of the ballots. He would have lost by a landslide, had it not been for a record outpouring of black pro-Miller votes, particularly in DeKalb County.
Then along came Roy, determined to stand at the head of the movers-and-shakers' class. Sonny didn't have much money to spend, but he looked at eager-beaver Barnes and knew the Republicans' time had come at last.
All he had to do was sit back and wait for the polls to close.
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.