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Georgia’s next governor: Who could be running in 2018

The election for Georgia’s governor is almost two years away, but the behind-the-scenes race is well underway. No major candidate is in the race yet to replace Gov. Nathan Deal – who cannot run for another term in 2018 – but top contenders are already gearing up.

Below is an early look at some of the top players to watch – with a big caveat. Few outside of Georgia’s political circles had heard of David Perdue before he announced his bid for U.S. Senate in 2013, and there’s no telling whether another outsider could shake up the race.

With that said, here goes:

Republicans

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle

Details: The Gainesville Republican was first elected to the state Senate in 1994 at the age of 28, becoming the youngest member of the chamber. He scored an upset victory against Ralph Reed in 2006 for Georgia’s No. 2 job, and has twice won re-election bids by hefty margins. He briefly considered a 2010 bid for governor and is considered the Republican to beat in 2018.

Status: Almost certain to run. The 50-year-old has written a book on education, championed a mix of conservative-friendly policies and school initiatives and tried to establish himself as the presumptive frontrunner after Donald Trump’s victory.

Secretary of State Brian Kemp. AJC file

Secretary of State Brian Kemp. AJC file

Secretary of State Brian Kemp

Details: A former state senator, the Athens Republican was appointed by Gov. Sonny Perdue as the state’s top elections official in 2010 and won his first of two four-year terms later that year. Kemp, 53, has tried to score political points by railing against left-leaning groups that accused his office of voter suppression; he could be hobbled by the 2015 accidental disclosure of voter data.

Status: He has not formally announced, but an official with direct knowledge of his decision says he is definitely in the race.

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jack Kingston pumps his fists after finding out he is in a runoff with David Perdue at his election night party. Curtis Compton, ccompton@ajc.com

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jack Kingston pumps his fists after finding out he is in a runoff with David Perdue at his election night party. Curtis Compton, ccompton@ajc.com

Former Rep. Jack Kingston

Details: Once the embodiment of a Washington insider – the Savannah Republican served 11 terms in Congress – Kingston has tried to remake himself after his narrow loss to David Perdue in the GOP primary in 2014 for an open U.S. Senate seat. He joined a lobbying firm and became one of Donald Trump’s top surrogates, constantly pushing an outsider-themed message in interviews and on the airwaves.

Status: He may run, though it seems unlikely.

Rep. Lynn Westmoreland. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Rep. Lynn Westmoreland. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Former Rep. Lynn Westmoreland

Details: One of the most colorful personalities in Georgia politics, the Coweta County Republican set off a wave of speculation when he announced he wouldn’t run for another term in office. The six-term congressman has a long history of remarkably candid comments, and he’s made it crystal-clear that he’s considering a run for governor.

Status: He may run, and the 66-year-old is embarking on a “reconnect tour” to sound out a return to office. Some who are close to him, though, say he’s unlikely to run.

State Sen. Burt Jones BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

State Sen. Burt Jones BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

State Sen. Burt Jones

Details: A former standout Georgia football player, Jones was elected to the state Senate from a middle Georgia district in 2012. He was one of the first state elected officials to back Trump’s campaign, and he has deep pockets: His family owns the Jones Petroleum conglomerate.

Status: He may run, and he’s told friends he’s undecided. He could also set his sights on lieutenant governor or other statewide office.

House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, addresses the Atlanta Press Club earlier this year in downtown Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, addresses the Atlanta Press Club earlier this year in downtown Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

House Speaker David Ralston

Details: The Blue Ridge attorney is a former state senator who has led the House since 2010. He has had a sometimes-adversarial relationship with his fellow Republican leaders, but has managed to keep the large and fractious House GOP caucus largely in line.

Status: He’s considering a run.

Former Govenor Sonny Perdue and his wife Mary. Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com

Former Govenor Sonny Perdue and his wife Mary. Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com

Former Gov. Sonny Perdue

Details: Georgia’s first Republican governor since Reconstruction, Perdue upset Roy Barnes in 2002 ahead of a GOP resurgence in Georgia. Since leaving office in 2010, he’s long been rumored to consider a comeback bid.

Status: Not gonna happen now that he’s landed the nomination as Trump’s agriculture chief. But his family’s formidable political network has searched for other potential candidates.

Sen. Mike Crane (left), R-Newnan, and Sen. Michael Williams, R-Cumming, confer in the statehouse. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

Sen. Mike Crane (left), R-Newnan, and Sen. Michael Williams, R-Cumming, confer in the statehouse. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

State Sen. Michael Williams

Details: The Cumming Republican and businessman owned a chain of haircut franchises before he was elected on an outsider’s platform in 2014, and was the first state elected official to endorse Trump. He eyed the Secretary of State’s office before Trump’s win; now he could be considering higher office.

Status: Don’t rule him out, though he could also run for a down-ticket office.

State Sen. Josh McKoon

Details: The Columbus Republican has long been a thorn in the side of the Republican establishment, and has already announced he will not seek another term in the state Senate. He was once considered a shoo-in to run for Attorney General, but with Chris Carr as a solid incumbent, he might consider a higher office.

Status: He’s said he is considering a bid for statewide office and hasn’t ruled out a gubernatorial bid.

U.S. Sen. David Perdue. AJC file/John Spink, jspink@ajc.com

U.S. Sen. David Perdue. AJC file/John Spink, jspink@ajc.com

U.S. Sen. David Perdue

Details: The former Fortune 500 chief executive swept to victory over Democrat Michelle Nunn in 2014 on the strength of his outsider message, and he was Trump’s most enthusiastic high-profile Georgia supporter during the 2016 campaign.

Status. Very doubtful. Although there are persistent rumors that he’s frustrated at the U.S. Senate’s pace, he’s said he will stay in office with Trump’s victory.

Democrats

George House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams speaks during the first day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia , Monday, July 25, 2016. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

George House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams speaks during the first day of the Democratic National Convention. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams

Details: A darling of the national media, the 43-year-old Atlanta Democrat is often seen as a leading voice for the party in the South. As the head of the Democratic caucus in the state House, she’s known to work with Republicans rather than outright oppose GOP initiatives. The voter registration group she founded, the New Georgia Project, aims to register hundreds of thousands of left-leaning voters; it has come under scrutiny for its tactics and results.

Status: She’s all but certain to run, though it’s unlikely she will be the only Democratic contender.

Former Georgia State Senator Jason Carter speaks during the second day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia , Tuesday, July 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Former Georgia State Senator Jason Carter speaks during the second day of the Democratic National Convention. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Former state Sen. Jason Carter

Details: The 41-year-old attorney was the Democratic nominee for governor in 2014, and he attracted a wave of national attention and fundraising. After he was defeated by Gov. Nathan Deal, Carter made clear his political career had only just begun. The question now facing Carter, a grandson of former President Jimmy Carter, is whether to enter run this year – or wait until the next decade to wage another campaign.

Status. He may run, and he recently outlined a strategy for his party to pursue.

Sally Quillian Yates. KENT D. JOHNSON / KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM

Sally Quillian Yates. KENT D. JOHNSON / KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM

Former acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates.

Details: A veteran Atlanta federal prosecutor, Yates made a name as a crusader against fraud by putting away politicians from both parties, including former Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell, ex-state Rep. Tyrone Brooks and one-time state school Superintendent Linda Schrenko. She was the U.S. Attorney in Atlanta when Obama tapped her to the No. 2 role in the Justice Department. Confirmed in 2015 with overwhelming bipartisan support, she was fired by Donald Trump in January 2016 after she ordered Justice Department attorneys not to defend Trump’s immigration policy.

Status: She may run, but she’s been mum on her future plans.

State Rep. Stacey Evans. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

State Rep. Stacey Evans

Details: The Smyrna attorney is the go-to Democrat in the House on the push to restore funding that had been cut from the state’s HOPE scholarship program. A Ringgold native, she is the first in her family to graduate from college, and she used her share in a massive whistleblower settlement she handled to create a scholarship for first-generation graduates at the University of Georgia’s law school.

Status: She is said to be “seriously” considering a run for governor and appears likely to enter the race if Carter does not.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed speaks during the third day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia , Wednesday, July 27, 2016. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed speaks during the third day of the Democratic National Convention. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed

Details: Reed built a national profile as a two-term Atlanta mayor, and is a prominent voice in the national Democratic Party’s future. He was considered a surefire potential pick to join Hillary Clinton’s administration, and he was one of her top surrogates throughout her campaign.

Status: Highly, highly doubtful. The 47-year-old has said repeatedly that while he’s “got another campaign in me,” he won’t be running in 2018. He said again in January he is “definitely” not joining the race.

Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga., speaks at the Christians United for Israel Washington Summit in Washington, Tuesday, July 23, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga., speaks at the Christians United for Israel Washington Summit in Washington, Tuesday, July 23, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Former Rep. John Barrow

Details: The six-term Congressman from Athens was known as the “last white Democrat in the Deep South” before his 2014 defeat to Republican Rick Allen. After a visiting professorship at the University of Georgia, though lately he’s caused a stir in Democratic circles by showing up at a range of political gatherings.

Status: Not likely. He said “he’s not running for anything at the moment.” Also, don’t count him out as a contender for Attorney General, which Democrats hope to pick off next year.

Teresa Pike Tomlinson is Mayor of Columbus, GA.

Teresa Pike Tomlinson is Mayor of Columbus, GA.

Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson

Details: The 51-year-old attorney is the first female mayor of Columbus, and her supporters see her as a fresh face who could appeal to working-class white voters and the party’s traditional base.

Status: Don’t bet on it. She said she has no plans to seek higher office, adding that she’s the “full-time mayor of Columbus and that’s all I think about.”

Third-party candidates

Libertarian Doug Craig

Libertarian Doug Craig

Libertarian Doug Craig

Details: A veteran of the Gulf War who operated nuclear reactors for the U.S. Navy, Craig runs a sheet-metal fabricator shop in Atlanta’s southside. As former chair of Georgia’s Libertarian Party, he backed the failed candidacies of Andrew Hunt for governor and Amanda Swafford for Senate.

Status: He’s running. He became the first candidate to formally jump in the race in August 2015, promising to be a third-party contender with a “strong message, not a watered down message.”


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