Bench strength – it is a concept that extends from sports to politics to entertainment. Many teams have top line talent that can keep them competitive on any given day. Yet, the best teams have even more talent waiting in the wings capable of stepping up and filling in when both expected and unexpected departures happen.
For decades, all of the depth in Georgia politics was among Democrats. Occasionally, Georgia Republicans could find a candidate with the resources and abilities to compete, but not consistently. The result was complete Democratic domination with virtually every election (especially statewide elections) being decided in the primary election.
Well, those days are over. Now, virtually all of the depth in Georgia politics is on the Republican side with Georgia Democrats left wondering who will carry their banner. The scales have tipped so decidedly that most Democrats are left speechless when asked to identify a single candidate who can mount a serious challenge to Gov. Nathan Deal in 2014.
Of course, bench strength at these levels carries with it some significant consequences. In years past, Republicans had some difficulty in just scaring up enough contenders to create a slate of candidates of any kind. Now, many Republican candidates have primary opposition; for some, for the first time in their political lives.
With so many Republican elected officeholders in Georgia awaiting their turn, any stumble can be politically fatal. Even without a stumble, winning a primary election with such an unhappy electorate can be tricky.
But, absent the unexpected, it is a long wait for the cupboard full of statewide elected Georgia Republicans eager to move up. Only the governor is term limited. Georgia’s Constitution limits the Governor to two terms. This means that the next time there is a predictable opening high up in the political food chain in Georgia is 2018, since Deal can and will seek reelection in 2014.
Even though 2018 is six years away, already there is jockeying among real political heavyweights interested in becoming Georgia’s next governor. Certainly, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, Secretary of State Brian Kemp, and Attorney General Sam Olens have to be considered as almost certain formidable candidates in 2018. In addition, a couple of current Members of Congress should be added to the list.
Of course, each current incumbent who decides to run opens up another office that will attract its own set of qualified candidates. The ripple effect on the Georgia political landscape will resemble a wave of change as a giant game of political musical chairs begins.
Some candidates will not wait that long. As Republican Sen. Richard Lugar’s defeat earlier this year in the Indiana Republican Primary proved, no incumbent is safe from an outright challenge. Already this year, there are challenges to many of Georgia’s congressmen and some of its most powerful state senators and representatives. It is the price tag of a strong bench.
Some of this could change if Governor Mitt Romney wins in November. Georgia’s Republican talent is so deep that many could make their way into a Republican Administration. Fortunately for Romney, the national Republican bench is also strong.
So far, Republican governors around the country have led the way in finding creative ways to cut spending, balance budgets, and restore economies. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s win against a well funded and organized recall effort illustrated the political staying power of these new Republican governors.
The list is impressive, with governors like Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and Deal — just to name a few who have made their mark early and with significant success. A President Romney would have lots of choices.
Bench strength is a beautiful thing when a team has it — even with the accompanying challenges. The reverse is also true. For example, if President Barack Obama is re-elected, he could ask Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed to join his administration for the second term. Reed is without question the most successful Georgia Democrat in office. If he left for Washington, D.C., Georgia’s Democratic cupboard would indeed be near bare.
But changes do happen. Neal Boortz announced his retirement from his nationally syndicated radio program after four decades. Under any other circumstance, it could only be a great loss to the national dialogue of issues important to the country. But, his replacement is Herman Cain — one of the most articulate, thoughtful, entertaining, and intelligent people around. Now, that is bench strength.
So, things do change. And, just a heads up, one more change is coming.
After more than 1,100 columns, opining on anything and everything, my last weekly column will be at the end of this month. It has been a great ride. It does mean that the last three should be a hoot.
Randy Evans is an Atlanta attorney with McKenna Long & Aldrige LLP. He is the former General Counsel of the Georgia Republican Party and remains active in the party on both the state and national level. He can be reached at www.mckennalong.com or McKenna Long & Aldrige LLP, Suite 5300, 303 Peachtree St., Atlanta, GA 30308.