ATLANTA - Georgia's two leading Democratic elected officials signed up Thursday for a shot at challenging Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue this fall.
Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor and Secretary of State Cathy Cox qualified for the July 18 Democratic gubernatorial primary, officially kicking off a race that already shows signs of becoming heated.
Taylor, who is finishing up his second term as lieutenant governor after 12 years in the state Senate, was the first to enter the Capitol on Thursday afternoon to sign up in the House chamber.
With sign-waving supporters forming a backdrop for the television cameras, he told reporters his experience handling a full range of issues facing state government distinguishes him from Cox, whose duties in two terms running the secretary of state's office have been more limited.
Taylor touted his successes as former Gov. Zell Miller's Senate floor leader in pushing through legislation creating the lottery-funded HOPE Scholarship and statewide pre-kindergarten programs and his bid this year to enact universal health coverage for children, an effort that was bottled up by Republican leaders.
"The difference is words versus deeds,'' Taylor said. "I present to the people of Georgia a record of deeds.''
Cox painted Taylor and Perdue with the same brush as representatives of an outmoded brand of partisan politics.
She cited her appointment of a Republican as her campaign chairman, former Rep. Dan Ponder of Donalsonville, as an example of the bipartisan approach she wants to take in the governor's office.
"I'm not going to spend four years worrying about how to posture things to make the other side look bad,'' Cox said. "I'm about bringing to the table the best ideas and people ... wherever we find them.''
Taylor and Cox sought to put to rest a campaign flap this week that resulted in Cox accepting the resignation of her campaign manager, Morton Brilliant.
A change posted to an Internet biography of Taylor mentioning the arrest of his son for drunk driving in a fatal traffic accident was traced to the Cox campaign.
"It's a regrettable incident, but we've taken strong action,'' Cox said. "I hope we have sent a very strong message that personal matters ... will not be interjected into this campaign.''
Taylor said he has accepted the apology Cox offered in a written statement and is anxious to move on to a debate of the issues.
Both candidates also promised to push for the development of alternative fuels, such as ethanol, as a way to address soaring gasoline prices.
"Georgia could be a great leader of alternative fuels that will save millions of dollars and be of benefit to farmers in this state,'' Taylor said.
While Cox and Taylor battle for the Democratic nomination, Perdue will be sitting on a huge war chest he will fully activate once he knows who his Democratic opponent will be.
The governor, who qualified on Monday, also will face at least one opponent in the Republican primary. Political unknown Ray McBerry of Henry County, who is self-employed in the advertising business, qualified on Wednesday as a Republican.
Another unknown candidate, Mac McCarley of Stockbridge, signed up on Wednesday to run for governor as a Democrat.
Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. John Linder, R-Duluth, drew a Democratic challenger on Thursday.
Allan Burns, a general contractor from Lilburn, qualified to run in the Gwinnett County-based 7th Congressional District, which also includes Barrow County.
Burns charged that Linder doesn't vote the interests of his middle-class constituents but favors the well to do. He cited as examples Linder's longtime sponsorship of a national sales tax and the incumbent's vote last year on a bill tightening federal bankruptcy laws.
"Even President Bush's advisory task force (on federal tax reform) has rejected it as being unworkable and bad for most taxpayers,'' Burns said, referring to Linder's FairTax measure.
Linder, who was first elected in 1992 and ran unopposed two years ago, took the high road to Burns' candidacy in a written statement the congressman issued Thursday.
"I want to be the first to congratulate Allan Burns on his candidacy,'' Linder said. "I look forward to the exchange of ideas that Mr. Burns' candidacy will undoubtedly bring.''
Also on Thursday, the Democratic race to succeed Taylor as lieutenant governor drew a fifth candidate in former state Sen. Greg Hecht of Jonesboro.
Hecht, who was the first in the group to start raising money early last year, is using a slogan - "Give 'em Hecht'' - to try to break through the clutter of a crowded field.
"We've raised the most funds,'' he said. "We think we've gained the most volunteers.''
Other candidates in the race include Sen. Steen Miles, D-Decatur, and former Rep. Jim Martin of Atlanta.