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Greg Bluestein

Jimmy Carter’s popularity could play into grandson’s run for governor

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Former President Jimmy Carter (far right) and grandson Jason Carter (second from right) campaign at the East Lake Farmers Market in 2010 during the younger Carter’s run for state Senate. Bita Honarvar, bhonarvar@ajc.com

Former President Jimmy Carter (far right) and grandson Jason Carter (second from right) campaign at the East Lake Farmers Market in 2010 during the younger Carter’s run for state Senate. Bita Honarvar, bhonarvar@ajc.com

Jason Carter’s strategists always recognized that his famous grandfather was something of a double-edged sword to his campaign for governor. But it may not be as sharp as once thought.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll released today found that a clear majority of registered voters in Georgia – 61 percent – hold a favorable opinion of former President Jimmy Carter. Some 28 percent of them say they have a “very favorable” opinion of the one-term president, while about a third view him negatively.

You can find a full story about the poll, as well as the crosstabs and methodology, over at myajc.com. But here we’ll dig a little deeper into the Jimmy Carter findings.

We reported in April that the ex-president was playing a growing role the campaign for governor, including hosting an exclusive fundraiser in June at his Plains compound and boosting his grandson’s campaign on national TV.

It also offered an opening for the candidate’s critics, who have seized the chance to link the elder Carter’s liberal record to his grandson’s gubernatorial bid. Deal’s camp said the 89-year-old former president’s role makes it harder for his grandson to “maintain the sham that he’s a moderate Democrat.”

The poll, conducted by Abt SRBI Inc. with a margin of error of 4 percent, gave the ex-president sky high ratings among Democrats (86 percent) and a narrow majority among independents (51 percent). Some 40 percent of Republicans view him positively.

The elder Carter’s numbers were higher among younger residents, a sign that his post-presidential legacy has left a positive imprint. Some 52 percent of voters older than 65 – who were in adulthood during his term in the White House – have a favorable impression of the ex-president. That number edged above 60 percent for voters between the ages of 18-39 and 40-64.

Audrey Johnson is one of those younger voters who remember the president fondly. A 35-year-old chef and food services manager, Johnson is a black Republican who often supports conservative candidates. But she has a soft spot for Jimmy Carter.

“I don’t know why so many people hate him,” said Johnson, who is from Ellenwood. “He was on the positive side of civil rights in my opinion. I just don’t get it.”

Susie Hobson, a 74-year-old retiree from Ellijay, also gave the ex-president positive marks.

“He was a good man. He made a lot of mistakes, but he sure was a good man,” said Hobson, a Republican. “And he cared for the people. That went on after he left office. He came up here in Gilmer County and helped build houses – I’ll never forget that.”

Of course, Jimmy Carter’s name isn’t on the ballot. But poll results that show he’s not more divisive despite outspoken views on international and domestic controversies help explain why the younger Carter isn’t distancing himself from his grandpa.

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