The race for Georgia DPG chairman carries 2016 & 2018 implications

The race for Georgia DPG chairman carries 2016 & 2018 implications

By Brandon Howell –

The internal squabbling that has blanketed the Democratic Party of Georgia’s attempts at conducting a 2014 autopsy is continuing. The across-the-board disappointment that greeted their candidates on November 4th has given way to strategic differences, as well as a proxy battle, that carry implications for both the 2016 and 2018 election cycles.

Current party chairman DuBose Porter is running for re-election. And, also as expected, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed does not want that to happen. The mayor makes it clear that he’s no fan of the state party’s 2014 strategy. Porter, meanwhile, has doubled down on his leadership and stated that 2014 was a step in the right direction for a party long stuck in the wilderness of Georgia politics.

Recently, a robocall went out challenging Reed’s bonafides as a “true Democrat.” Whoever is behind it has yet to come forward, but Reed took to Twitter to assail the call and defend himself. Shortly thereafter, in an interview with the Associated Press, Reed confirmed he preferred new leadership at the helm of the DPG next year. The question now is whether or not a candidate who would have his backing will enter the fray, and whether or not it would be enough.

As it now stands, R.J. Hadley is the only other announced candidate besides Porter. He ran in last year’s chairman’s race and was generally a non-factor. Porter won that election, defeating Reed’s preferred candidate, former state Sen. Doug Stoner. Rumors abound that Democratic strategist Tharon Johnson, a Reed loyalist, is considering making a run. If so, would he have to surrender his lucrative government affairs job at McKenna Long and Aldridge?

Though he continues to downplay his interest publicly, Reed is widely known to be a possible Democratic contender for governor in 2018. So is Jason Carter, the party’s failed 2014 candidate. Carter recently told the AJC “he expected Porter to prevail.” Whether or not the Atlanta mayor gets his way with the party’s leadership will say a lot about his early standing with the party’s base heading into a possible 2018 primary clash with Carter, and probably others.

The general train of thought has been that Carter’s run in 2014, four years sooner than many had initially expected, leaves him in a better position than Reed. The latter said last summer that Democrats should forego a serious challenge to Republican Gov. Nathan Deal and focus on the race for the state’s open Senate seat. That did little to improve Reed’s standing with the party base, his lukewarm (at best) support of Carter was widely covered throughout the campaign, and Porter’s defense of the DPG’s strategy included his wish that Reed had “done more.”

The main dispute, of course, is whether the governor and Senate candidates should have run away from the unpopular Obama, or should have been more supportive of the president’s controversial policies.

U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s announcement that he’s running for re-election in 2016 also brings more immediate implications for the Democrats’ race for chairman. The questions of whether or not to fund a serious challenger to Isakson, and whether or not a credible candidate will even emerge, are already being asked. It’s hard to build a compelling narrative that 2014 was a step in the right direction when a viable 2016 Senate candidate is not a done deal.