Timing against Perdue as national candidate

There's an old political saying that all governors see themselves as future presidents.

In fact, recent history shows that running states has become a proving ground for politicians harboring dreams of national office. Starting with former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter, four of the last five presidents served as governors before moving to the White House.

That's why the talk in political circles of Gov. Sonny Perdue's enhanced viability for a spot on the Republicans' 2008 national ticket since his solid re-election victory last month comes as no surprise.

Several factors favor the governor, particularly as a potential candidate for vice president.

But a closer look at the current dynamics of national politics shows Perdue to be a long shot at best, a victim of poor timing.

On the plus side is the governor's demonstrated prowess as a vote-getter. Perdue's 20-point shellacking of Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, the Democratic nominee, was the largest margin of victory in the governor's race in 20 years and gave him extra status as Georgia's first Republican chief executive ever to win a second term.

With Perdue at the top of the GOP ticket, Republicans also captured the vacant offices of lieutenant governor and secretary of state, held their other statewide posts and maintained their majorities in the General Assembly.

From the national perspective, Perdue is the leader of one of the few states where Republicans did well in a congressional election year that saw Democrats wrest control of both houses of Congress from the GOP.

In the wake of a Democratic onslaught that spread to gubernatorial and legislative contests, Georgia is one of just a half dozen states where Republicans hold both the governorship and majorities in both chambers of the Legislature.

The next presidential election also will be unusually open to new candidates. For the first time since the 1920s, neither the sitting president nor vice president will be seeking a spot on the national ticket.

In addition, the Republican field is no longer crowded with candidates who share Perdue's geographic profile.

Two fellow Southerners once considered top GOP prospects either have taken their hat out of the ring or had it taken out for them.

Outgoing Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee recently announced he would not be running for president, while Virginia Sen. George Allen's chances for the top job evaporated last month when he lost a close race for re-election to Democrat William Webb.

The departures of Frist and Allen have left mostly moderates on the short list of Republican presidential hopefuls, including Arizona Sen. John McCain, outgoing Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. "(Perdue) is drawing some interest because of the absence of conservatives from the Republican field," said Merle Black, a political science professor at Emory University.

But Black and others suggest that moderates are just what the GOP probably will be looking for in 2008 because of the growing unpopularity of President Bush.

The president's dogged pursuit of the war in Iraq, considered a failed policy by voters in most of the country, took much of the blame for the Democrats' congressional gains outside of the Republicans' Southern stronghold.

Larry Sabato, director of the Institute for Politics at the University of Virginia, said the search for someone different than Bush, a former governor of Texas, likely will enhance the prospects of GOP candidates from outside of the South.

"The Republican Party is certainly Southern-based, but that's part of the problem," Sabato said. "It needs to have nominees from other parts of the country so it can broaden its electoral appeal."

Added Black: "(Perdue would) be seen as a Deep South conservative, and I think the Republican Party is going to look in a different direction ... I think it's the wrong time for Perdue."

E-mail Dave Williams at dave.williams@gwinnettdailypost.com.

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