Georgia labor chief leaning toward US Senate bid

Photo by Michael Buckelew

Photo by Michael Buckelew

ATLANTA -- Georgia Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond said Friday that he's leaning toward a run for U.S. Senate.

The 57-year-old Democrat told The Associated Press he is strongly considering a challenge to Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson. Thurmond said his experience as labor commissioner would serve him well if he decides to run, because jobs are a top priority for the nation.

"In thinking about what role I could play in helping some 15 million Americans at the end of this downturn who, as we begin to reach the point of recovery, find themselves unemployed ... obviously, the Senate offers me that opportunity," Thurmond said.

Isakson is seeking a second term and has $4.4 million in the bank for his re-election bid. Isakson recently returned to the campaign trail after being hospitalized for an irregular heartbeat and a blood clot.

Thurmond, who served with Isakson in the Georgia General Assembly, said the senator's illness will not factor into his decision.

"I'm happy that he announced himself well and recooperated," Thurmond said. "But I'm running for the seat. I don't see myself necessarily running against Johnny Isakson."

In a statement provided Friday, Isakson campaign spokeswoman Joan Kirchner did not specifically address Thurmond's possible entry into the contest.

"Johnny has been traveling the state and organizing in all 159 Georgia counties to prepare for a race," the statement read. "Johnny looks forward to campaigning on his strong record of conservative Georgia values."

So far, the only Democrat to challenge him is former Rockdale County chief of staff and first-time candidate R.J. Hadley.

Thurmond said he will announce his decision on Wednesday. Georgia Democrats, who are in the minority of the General Assembly, hope November elections will allow them to take back the state they ruled for decades.

The Athens native, attorney and historian served in the Georgia House from 1986 to 1994 before he was appointed head of the state's Deparment of Family and Children's Services. In 1998, he won his first term as labor commissioner, becoming one of only two blacks elected statewide -- still a rare feat in Georgia.

Thurmond was re-elected in 2002 and 2006. He is weighing his next move even as Georgia's unemployment rate hit a record high of 10.6 percent this week.