Georgia’s got a lot riding on the primaries
By Walter C. Jones
Morris News Service
At different points in the young primary season, Georgia had two favorite sons leading the Republican presidential race.
Had either Herman Cain or Newt Gingrich held that perch, become the nominee and eventually captured the White House, state leaders would have been licking their chops over the possible gravy train.
Topping the list would be the federal share of the $600-million deepening of the Savannah River shipping channel. Other possible benefits could include funding for rail, highways, research and military bases, orders for our defense contractors and administration appointments for local supporters. Those appointments, of course, could translate into other benefits to their associates back home who would suddenly have “friends in high places.”
After all, there are still Georgians trading on their service in Jimmy Carter’s administration that ended 30 years ago.
Well, today Cain is history, and Gingrich has withered under the initial air assault by Mitt Romney’s super PAC and his revival remains in doubt. What might have come so easily to Georgia now has not only swung out of reach but also could fall into the hands of the state’s competitors.
That’s because South Carolina is shaping up to be the decisive primary. Romney’s unpredicted win in Iowa and expected win in New Hampshire set up the Palmetto State as the last opportunity for anyone to derail the former Massachusetts governor’s nomination. A Romney win there makes it almost certain.
So, whoever triumphs in South Carolina will be awfully beholden to his supporters there. And winning them over is likely to require quite a few specific promises.
Think about ethanol. Probably the chief reason for all the federal subsidies and mandates stems from Iowa’s importance as the first step in the nomination process. Getting votes from all of those corn farmers requires lots of promises, and ethanol is the payoff.
South Carolina could get in on Iowa’s game. So what do voters there want?
For one thing, they want the river deepened leading to the Charleston harbor, and not the Savannah one.
In fact, they want the same things Georgia voters want.
Some of the promises made there would benefit both states, such as trade deals that would resurrect the textile industry. Opening up export markets for their hogs might also open them for Georgia’s poultry. And a high-speed rail line to Charleston and Columbia is of limited value if it doesn’t connect with neighboring destinations like Atlanta and Miami via Savannah.
The danger, though, is that too many of the promises extracted by South Carolina politicos could come at the expense of Georgia’s ambitions.
Perhaps South Carolina won’t be decisive. The eventual winner could still honor promises made there, but the scenario becomes more complicated if the battle continues into Florida.
Again, Georgia would benefit from some of the chits our southern neighbors collect. Helping the tourism industry there, for example, could help Georgia’s as well. Pledges made to woo Florida’s massive retiree population could sweeten the retirement communities scattered around the Peach State, too.
But again, Florida is also a competitor. It has ports it wants enhanced. It has universities that desire research grants, and so on.
In the unusual circumstance that even Florida hasn’t winnowed out all but one contender, Georgia could have its chance on Super Tuesday, March 6, when it holds its primary with six other states plus three that are conducting caucuses then. Of course, there are three Midwest primaries and five caucuses between Florida and Super Tuesday.
If the game is still on by Super Tuesday, Georgia’s significance depends on whether Gingrich remains in the race. Since he represented this state in Congress for 20 years, he could be considered a favorite son and the state’s electorate his gimme, leading the other candidates to write it off and thereby issue no promises and owe no one gratitude.
Watching football games is always more interesting after betting on the outcome, and the same is true with politics. This year’s playoffs for the nomination is all the more fascinating for those who have a stake in the results -- or at least those who realize they do.
Walter Jones is the bureau chief for the Morris News Service and has been covering state politics since 1998. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, (404) 589-8424 or on Twitter @MorrisNews.