Candidates line up for qualifying

ATLANTA - Georgia's two most controversial politicians signed up Monday to run in their respective party primaries this summer, guaranteeing spirited contests that could spill over into the November election.

Republican Ralph Reed, a political consultant from Duluth caught up in a Washington lobbying scandal, brought a group of sign-waving volunteers with him as he qualified to run for lieutenant governor.

U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Stone Mountain, a lightning rod for her sharp criticism of the Bush administration, was accompanied by supporters of her own as she signed up to seek re-election in the 4th Congressional District, which includes part of western Gwinnett County.

Reed and McKinney highlighted opening day of a weeklong qualifying period that also featured their two primary opponents, Gov. Sonny Perdue and dozens of other candidates for statewide, congressional and legislative offices up for grabs in a busy election year.

Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor and Secretary of State Cathy Cox, Democrats vying to challenge Perdue, are expected to qualify later this week.

After qualifying in the lieutenant governor's race, Reed told reporters he doesn't believe the scandal that has rocked Washington in recent months will hurt his campaign. Disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a longtime friend and political associate of Reed, is at the center of the controversy, which in part involves work Reed's firm did on behalf of Abramoff's casino clients.

Reed organized opposition to legalized gambling proposals that would have competed with those casinos' interests.

"We've run a positive, optimistic campaign on issues, including a Taxpayers' Dividend Act, education reform ... protecting private property rights (and) securing our borders,'' Reed said Monday. "I believe those issues are going to carry me to victory.''

But Reed's opponent for the Republican nomination, state Sen. Casey Cagle, R-Gainesville, said Reed can't get away from the swirl of controversy that has surrounded his candidacy.

"He's in the middle of a scandal,'' Cagle said. "He has a lot of issues he'll have to clean up.''

McKinney's Democratic primary opponent charged that the veteran congresswoman also won't be able to escape the consequences of the polarizing remarks she has leveled with some frequency at the president.

Hank Johnson, a DeKalb County commissioner, said if he is elected, he would be a voice for bipartisanship.

"The voice the district has now is controversial and not credible,'' he said. "Members of Congress don't want to work with our current representative.''

But McKinney, who could face assault charges following an altercation last month with a Capitol Police officer who didn't recognize her when she attempted to go around a checkpoint, said voters in the 4th District will support her in the July primary because they appreciate her outspokenness.

"People love me because I tell the truth,'' she said. "They understand the country is on the wrong track.''

Perdue addressed a rally in the Capitol Rotunda after signing up to seek a second term as Georgia's first Republican governor since Reconstruction.

He took credit for taking a state government that was suffering from a $640 million shortfall when he took office more than three years ago and turning it into a surplus.

"I'm proud of the tough decisions we made then,'' he said. "I think it prepared us for better days, and we're enjoying those days now.''

Among the legislative candidates to qualify Monday was Rep. Mickey Channell, of Greensboro, one of three House Democrats to switch parties since this year's session ended last month. Channell and Reps. Richard Royal, of Camilla, and Butch Parrish, of Swainsboro, all hail from rural districts where Republicans are gaining strength.

"The issue for me was whose legislative agenda comes closer to the viewpoint of the majority of my constituents,'' Channell said. "My conclusion is, today, the Republican Party comes closer.''

But House Minority Leader DuBose Porter, D-Dublin, said the party switchers are making a mistake because Georgia Democrats are right on the issues voters care about.

"When you switch to run as a Republican, you don't switch to run with George Bush,'' Porter said. "You switch to run with people who have cut education, cut health care and ruined the State Health Benefit Plan.''