ATLANTA - Mark Taylor is Georgia Democrats' nominee for governor because his campaign was better timed and longer on specifics than his opposition, both supporters and opponents of the lieutenant governor said Wednesday.
Taylor defeated Secretary of State Cathy Cox and two lesser-known opponents on Tuesday to win the Democratic nod, setting him on a collision course with Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue in November.
With 97 percent of precincts having reported by Wednesday, Taylor had captured 51.7 percent of the vote to 44.0 percent for Cox, according to unofficial returns.
Between them, Mac McCarley of McDonough and Bill Bolton of Marietta split less than 5 percent of the vote.
The key difference between Cox and Taylor was how they came across to voters in their TV ads, said state Sen. Curt Thompson, D-Norcross, the only senator who endorsed Cox.
As lieutenant governor, Taylor has presided over the Senate for the past eight years.
Cox's ads were image-oriented, portraying her as a governor who would seek to downplay the role of politics in state government and reach out to Democrats and
Thompson said that would have been fine for a general election campaign but not to attract primary voters.
"Cathy had a better shot of beating Governor Perdue, but she had to get past the primary,'' he said. "The primaries are geared toward the base of both parties.''
On the other hand, Taylor appealed to Democratic voters with specific issues, either legislation he had already helped enact into law or promised to push as Georgia's next
Examples included his role more than a decade ago in creating the lottery-funded HOPE Scholarships and pre-kindergarten programs and this year's PeachKids initiative, which called for universal health insurance coverage for Georgia children.
Senate Minority Leader Robert Brown, D-Macon, said Taylor began to gain ground on Cox in the polls and eventually passed her because of those ads.
"When people started looking at Mark Taylor's record and at what he was talking about for the future, these issues resonated with people when they went to the polls,'' Brown said.
Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia, said Taylor also benefited by getting a jump on Cox in the TV ad wars.
"It seemed like two to three weeks where Taylor was running positive ads before Cox's first ads appeared,'' Bullock said. "You can't yield the field to your opponent uninterrupted for that long.''
Soon, both sides began running the attack ads that came to dominate the campaign.
Rep. Bob Holmes, D-Atlanta, a Cox supporter, said he believes the negative tone hurt her more than Taylor because by that point she had established a higher standard for herself as a candidate who was opposed to such slash-and-burn politics.
"She was viewed as someone different,'' Holmes said. "Many people didn't turn out because of the negative
Holmes and Thompson also cited internal problems in the Cox campaign. She was forced to fire her campaign manager in April after he was caught doctoring an online biography of Taylor to include information about his son's drunk driving arrest.
Brown said Taylor got the better of the endorsements. Particularly important to black voters, a key constituency in Democratic primaries, was the support Taylor received from former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, Brown said.