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What it takes to win elections

If Bobby Kahn turns out one more press release on Georgia's economy, I think I'll cut off my fax machine.

Hasn't the state Democratic Party chairman figured out anything? Doesn't Kahn know most people don't care about the state's economy? They'd rather giggle at the governor bumping into a wall again than hear about another plant closing or to learn of a new one opening in the state.

If you've got a secure job, you're in great shape. You're ready to vote Republican. If you're out of work or about to lose your job to outsourcing or mergers or bankruptcy, you don't give a damn about the Georgia economy.

You're scared to death. You're wondering what to do next. How you may vote several months from now is not even on your radar.

So Georgia has the worst unemployment figures in the country, and our median income is nose-diving - so what?

You'd think Kahn would learn something from the Republicans or from his own party's past.

Important stuff, defined by statistics, doesn't resonate. Real people, not those pointy-headed academics, don't get much from figures and charts. Most news reporters and editors have problems dealing with numbers larger than their shoe sizes. On the evening news, a fistfight over a barking dog trumps a press conference on declining wages every time.

Kahn should limit his press reports only to matters that can pass the love-or-loathe test - issues that make you want to stand up and cheer or, better still, that make you want to jeer and detest some person or group of persons.

Look how the Republicans won the last governor's election:

They discovered that many voters hated Gov. Roy Barnes. Those voters turned out because they were mad as hell about Barnes downplaying the Confederate battle flag on the new state banner. Teachers went en masse to the polls because they hated the idea they would be treated like employees in most other occupations. They would be held accountable for their work.

When the ballots were tallied, both flaggers and teachers enjoyed a momentary thrill of victory only to be hit shortly thereafter with the agony of betrayal.

Now consider how Republicans won both houses of the Legislature in 2004.

Voters despised homosexuals, especially the idea they might try to wed each other. The electorate mobbed the polls in near-record numbers to ratify a state constitutional amendment to block gay marriages. It didn't matter that at least two laws prohibiting such arrangements already existed. While voters zapped improbable same-sex weddings, they also cast ballots in favor of GOP candidates.

Beware, the Republicans are trying to perform an encore with added flourishes in the 2006 election.

The Perdue administration had hoped to offer a constitutional amendment reinforcing present public policy on providing taxpayer cash for church-sponsored social programs. The Legislature has nixed that measure, at least temporarily. However, as the session draws to a close, don't be surprised to see sleight-of-hand measures on the faith-based issue pop up again.

This year, Republicans' best bet for an emotional fix and a spur to voter turnout may come from Ralph Reed - if he manages to best Sen. Casey Cagle in the primary for lieutenant governor. In fact, Reed's primary vote could be a true measure of the "family values" vote in strength.

Despite an aura of scandal, Reed is still a rock-star-like politician. No matter what is alleged about Reed in Washington, his fans adore him. Reed's appearance on the ballot would give the multitudes a chance to thumb their noses at the despised media.

A Reed victory would tell the world that Georgia doesn't care what the TV networks and newspapers think. Religious conservatives still love Ralph and hate those other guys, especially those liberal news snoops. Meanwhile, the big media keep pounding Reed. The April issue of Washington Monthly magazine depicts Reed as a calculating weasel whose popularity in Georgia has worn thin.

One other note: Reed is deplored nationally for his alleged participation in a scheme to bilk Indian casino operators out of millions. However, as any Georgia history buff knows, cheating Indians is not considered such a bad practice in the Peach State. Ask any Cherokee.

Of course, the Republican brain trust, including Reed, did not invent the emotional trigger to fire up voters. It is a tried-and-true Democratic device.

While Georgia and other Southern states wallowed in poverty and illiteracy for more than a century after the Civil War, their elected leaders, all Democrats, devoted their fiery campaign rhetoric to maintaining "white only" signs at public accommodations. Indeed, Lyndon Johnson's abandonment of racist politics opened the door to a Republican takeover of the South, but that is a story you have heard before.

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.