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Cox's campaign crashing

A single-engine plane had taxied nose first into the side of a hangar at DeKalb-Peachtree Airport. No one was hurt, but a photo of the crippled aircraft stretched across five columns of an inside page of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The caption said the minor crash was attributed "to pilot error." The plane was licensed to Mark Dehler of Decatur, husband of and chief political strategist for gubernatorial candidate Cathy Cox.

On the page facing the picture, a banner headline touted a new poll showing Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor running ahead of Secretary of State Cox in the quest for the Democratic nomination for governor. The plane photo and the political headline formed a perfect metaphor for the Cox gubernatorial bid. Her campaign may have crashed into a wall before ever getting off the ground.

Whether Cox and her team can repair the damage and resume their journey before the July 18 primary is uncertain.

Cox ought to be the best candidate in the field, Democrat or Republican. She has fresh ideas, a good record of government service and a public presence that easily eclipses Taylor's and Gov. Sonny Perdue's.

Yet her campaign has gone awry. At times, she seems more intent on reacting to her rivals than striking out on her own course.

Lately, some of her old allies have turned out to be her worst enemies.

A case in point: Homosexual activists, mostly in midtown Atlanta and DeKalb County, have announced that they may boycott the Democratic primary. They are unhappy with Cox. They claim that she flip-flopped on her opposition to Georgia's anti-gay marriage amendment.

In 2004 she opposed the amendment. Now she says she would support a special legislative session to repair possible legal problems with the measure, which sailed to easy passage two years ago.

In a public way, Atlanta's gay activists are deciding whether to dump Cox, the only candidate who has shown the slightest willingness to protect their rights.

Without Cox in the match, 2006 would be open season on homosexuals.

A Fulton judge's decision to reopen the gay wedding issue is seen as a godsend for Georgia Republicans.

In matters pertaining to real governance, the Republicans' first four years running state government have resulted in a series of zeroes. They have failed to improve education, transportation, the economy, health care, law enforcement, the environment and openness in government. Yet they have proven to be experts in distracting voters with such issues as gay marriage.

Nationally, embattled Republicans, led by President Bush, are about to launch a campaign for a marriage amendment similar to Georgia's. They have seen how effectively their state-level cousins have exploited the issue. Several ranking GOP lawmakers need a fight against same-sex marriage to divert national attention from their dreadful performances in Washington.

The gay issue also helps certain Democrats in Georgia and elsewhere. Lt. Gov. Taylor can accurately boast that he was an original sponsor of the state statute against same-sex weddings. He was an early booster of the constitutional amendment. If gays should declare they will boycott Taylor, he would probably include their denouncement in his TV spots. It would be a hallelujah moment for the Taylor campaign.

The truth is, gays have few if any supporters among mainstream Southern politicians. Illegal immigrants are better liked.

A convincing argument can be made that the Cox campaign would have been better off from the get-go without the endorsement of the organized gay bloc. Their public voice may be loud, but their statewide voting strength is uncertain. Traditional politicians always run in opposition to gay rights. It's the safest route.

The marriage issue is emblematic of Cox's campaign problems. No matter what happens, she is hurt. If she is to win the Democratic primary, she needs more friends on the right and in the middle - people far more concerned with runaway government spending and incompetence than with legalizing weddings for same-sex couples.

Cox might even consider shrugging off the gays' threatened boycott of her primary. Trying to cool their wrath even as she is identified as the most dependable defender of their rights could be more trouble than it's worth on Election Day.

Syndicated columnist Bill Shipp writes on Georgia politics. Write him at P.O. Box 440755, Kennesaw, GA 30160, or e-mail bshipp@bellsouth.net. His Web site is www.billshipp.com. His column appears on Wednesday and Sunday.