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Last chance for Taylor?

If I were the Georgia Democratic Party chair in charge of trying to resuscitate the party's dying donkey, I would write Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor one more letter. Here is what it would say:

Dear Mark,

Don't run for governor next year. Run for re-election as lieutenant governor.

Believe it or not, the future of the state as well as that of the Democratic Party may be riding on the outcome of the election for lieutenant governor.

In many political circles, the race for No. 2 is attracting more attention than the contest for governor.

Oh, I know what you are going to say. You'll tell me that you've already been offered the re-election deal, and you've said no. So you want me to forget about it. You'll say you just don't want to be lieutenant governor any longer.

Since the last time this subject came up, the playing field has changed. Your chances of being elected governor have diminished.

Your odds of winning re-election to your present post are better than ever.

Ralph Reed, the Republicans' premier candidate for lieutenant governor, is struggling, in some instances against leaders of his own party. Entrenched Republicans are fearful that Reed as lieutenant governor would usurp their power and prestige.

Meanwhile, one of Reed's pals, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, has been indicted in Texas on a felony charge regarding campaign finances. The case is complicated, but you can bet that Democrats will try to keep it in the national news until well into the next election season. DeLay has been forced to step down as majority leader, at least temporarily.

Democrats will see to it that the indictment stirs up dust in Georgia. DeLay's political action committee ARMPAC has contributed more than $100,000 to the Georgia congressional delegation over the past few years. For next year's election, DeLay's PAC has already given $5,000 each to U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey and former U.S. Reps. Max Burns and Mac Collins.

However, the Georgian to whom DeLay is most frequently tied remains Reed. DeLay and Reed have taken golfing trips to Scotland with controversial powerhouse lobbyist Jack Abramoff. David Safavian, President Bush's procurement chief, was recently arrested in connection with one of these golfing getaways.

Of course, DeLay and Reed have both been trying to put some distance between themselves and Abramoff in the past year.

Now, Ralph has the added chore of also shying away from DeLay.

At first glance, the Abramoff-DeLay-Reed trifecta looks like just another nearly indecipherable maze of K Street corridors and congressional offices, but the lingering scent of corruption is unmistakable.

Isn't it remarkable, Mark, that the Grand Old Party, which rose to power partly on a tidal wave of moral indignation against Clintonesque Democrats, is in danger of drowning in a sea of corruption-related allegations as well?

But I digress. Though Reed appears on paper to be the new Georgia GOP superman, he may not be the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor. Several Republican state senators are quietly circulating a two-page memo on why they believe Reed can't win the 2006 election. Citing Reed's relatively high unfavorable poll ratings, the memo says, "As public coverage of Ralph's recent work as a lobbyist continues, that (unfavorable) ratio is clearly not going to improve."

Georgia's anti-Reed Republicans are determined to avoid a replay of the 2001 GOP convention when Ralph and his evangelical allies took the party by storm.

They are ready to do nearly anything to shut the door on Reed's long-term ambitions, and they might be successful.

If you ran for re-election, Mark, you might find yourself defending the office against a little-known state senator named Casey Cagle.

Cagle, lacking the star power and high-level connections of Reed, ought to be a pushover for you, a Democratic incumbent with solid name recognition and an enviable record of achievements as both a legislator and lieutenant governor.

On the other hand, even an anonymous Republican in this overwhelmingly red state is likely to prevail in a lieutenant governor's election against Democratic nobodies.

As you have been advised before, a Taylor-Reed contest is a national race that would attract national dollars. Some Georgia Democrats will see it as a do-or-die gambit to save their political base. Look at it this way, Mark. If Democrat Taylor wins, he is in line to run for the vacant seat of governor in 2010. However, if Democrat Taylor drops the ball in either the primary or general election for governor next year, he is finished in state politics.

Syndicated columnist Bill Shipp writes on Georgia politics. E-mail bshipp@bellsouth.net. His column appears on Wednesday and Sunday.