Gov. Sonny Perdue and anybody running for lieutenant governor but Ralph Reed appear to have the momentum in Georgia's top political races entering this election year, judging from the latest batch of fundraising reports.
But both Democrats looking to turn the Republican governor out of office as well as Reed's camp are quick to note that Election Day is in November, not January. That gives them time to make up for any perceived shortcomings in either the amount of campaign cash they're bringing in or the pace of their fundraising efforts.
Perdue, seeking a second term as Georgia's first GOP governor since Reconstruction, had raised $10.4 million through the end of December, already dwarfing what he mustered against well-funded Democratic incumbent Roy Barnes four years ago.
More importantly, Perdue still has $8.5 million in his account. That's more than the two Democrats vying to unseat him, Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor and Secretary of State Cathy Cox, have between them.
"Perdue is finding it much easier to raise money as an incumbent than as a challenger,'' said Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia.
Still, the fact that Taylor and Cox are even that close to Perdue at this stage portends a competitive race this fall, said Merle Black, a political science professor at Emory University.
Bullock said Democrats will pour money into the campaign of the candidate who survives the party's gubernatorial primary in July. After losing the Governor's Mansion and the General Assembly to the Republicans in the last four years, he said too much will be at stake in 2006 for Democrats not to open up their wallets.
"The Democrats are really going to rally around their candidate,'' he said. "If they lose the governorship again, it will be difficult for them to mount challenges in 2008 and 2010, when (U.S.) Senate seats are up again.''
Reed, a Duluth resident, once was the unassailable front-runner in the lieutenant governor's race, a former national chairman of the Christian Coalition-turned successful political consultant to conservative causes and a prolific fundraiser for Republican candidates.
But he was hit from all sides last week by opponents citing year-end fundraising reports as evidence that adverse publicity surrounding his business dealings with formerly powerful Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff have turned off contributors.
Abramoff pleaded guilty this month to bribing public officials in a widening scandal threatening to envelop members of Congress.
Reed's Republican primary opponent, state Sen. Casey Cagle, raised $667,000 during the last half of 2005, outstripping the $400,000 brought in by Reed during that period.
"We didn't think we'd raise this much this early,'' Cagle said. "We've exceeded every goal and every expectation.''
Former Sen. Greg Hecht, vying for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor, also outraised Reed during the past six months - albeit by a razor-thin margin - in a primary race that has drawn much less attention than the Reed-Cagle contest.
On top of that, the campaign of former Democratic state Rep. Jim Martin released an internal poll last week that showed him leading Reed in a head-to-head matchup.
"I think the consequences of his associations with Abramoff are going to get more visible and more harmful as we proceed,'' Black said. "He's going to have a harder time raising money.''
But Jared Thomas, Reed's campaign manager, said the slower pace of his fundraising isn't important next to the big picture, which has Reed's $1.8 million leading Cagle by half a million dollars.
"This is just the ebb and flow of fundraising,'' Thomas said. "We don't measure our success by a week, a month or a quarter. We're running a marathon, and we're winning.''
Dave Williams is a staff writer for the Gwinnett Daily Post. E-mail him at email@example.com.