Why the 2018 race for Georgia attorney general is one to watch

Gov. Nathan Deal and incoming Attorney General Chris Carr. (DAVID BARNES / DAVID.BARNES@AJC.COM)

Gov. Nathan Deal and incoming Attorney General Chris Carr. (DAVID BARNES / DAVID.BARNES@AJC.COM)

The wide-open battle for Georgia governor will no doubt be the premier statewide election in 2018. But the race for attorney general is close behind.

Newly-appointed Attorney General Chris Carr will come into the contest with the support of major business boosters, incumbency status and the political networks of both Gov. Nathan Deal and U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson. But several of his probable GOP challengers seem undaunted.

Outgoing state Rep. B.J. Pak, a former federal prosecutor and longtime friend of Carr, said he hasn’t ruled out a run for the post. And state Sen. Josh McKoon, the champion of the “religious liberty” legislation loathed by business groups but embraced by grassroots activists, appears likely to run.

A McKoon candidacy would set up a proxy battle between two warring factions in the GOP that we can bet will still be dueling in two years: The establishment forces backing Carr and the anti-establishment crowd that’s made McKoon something of a hero.

McKoon’s comment in today’s dead-tree edition story on Carr succeeding Sam Olens was telling:

McKoon, for his part, praised Olens as a tough-minded attorney general who was unafraid to make hard decisions. He questioned whether Olens’ successor had the legal background to do the job — and whether he would be free of political interference from Deal’s office.


“It is important that our attorney general be someone who has amassed a significant degree of experience in the practice of law,” said McKoon, a Columbus attorney. “It is equally important that person be free of undue influence from any other official.”

Should Carr survive a primary, he’s likely to face a well-funded Democrat in the general. State Rep. Stacey Evans, a trial lawyer considered a rising Democratic star, is the first politician in her party to ruminate on a run. But she’ll have some shoring up to do among her fellow Democrats.

Ex-Gov. Roy Barnes, a friend of Isakson, called Carr  a “good appointment” who will do a “great job,” adding that he might cross party lines to back the Republican in 2018.

“If folks do a good job, whether they be a Democrat or Republican, then I’ll endorse them then,” said Barnes. “I have nothing but confidence that he’ll do a good job.”

And Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, Deal’s closest Democratic ally, said in a statement that Carr would make a “strong” AG.

“Mr. Carr works with people of all political backgrounds to achieve concrete results,” said Reed.

Read more about Carr and why the governor picked him here.

And more: Olens opening is Deal’s latest chance to reshape Georgia’s government

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