State Sen. Eric Johnson was out of town when we called around to ask folks how it was that Georgia bucked the national trend toward the Democrats.
When we caught up with him, he didn’t dissent from the consensus that Georgians classify national and state elections as distinct political animals.
And the Peach State electorate draws separate and often different conclusions about the federal and state levels, the Savannah Republican agreed.
One difference voters perceived, Johnson said, was that the state GOP slate was free of the scandals that plagued the Republican Congress.
That’s a big deal; exit polls revealed that, across the country, corruption was a major factor for three-fourths of the electorate. And most of them, the surveys found, voted Democratic in the congressional elections.
But it wasn’t inevitable that the Georgia GOP would field a scandal-free ticket.
Former state GOP chairman Ralph Reed was the early frontrunner for Republican nomination for lieutenant governor.
But Reed found himself increasingly under fire for his ties to convicted Washington lobbyist-crook Jack Abramoff. Although Reed soldiered on, Georgia Republicans, including Johnson, distanced themselves.
The river of GOP contributor money that had flowed into Reed’s coffers was rechannelled to those of his little-known challenger, Casey Cagle.
In the end, Cagle, a state senator from Gainsville, beat Reed easily and went on to be elected the state’s first Republican lieutenant governor.
In jettisoning Reed and the political baggage he would have carried into the fall campaign, Johnson said, GOP primary voters performed an act of “moral cleansing.”
That, he said, contrasted with the false moralizing, graft, and – in one case, sexual misconduct – by prominent GOP congressmen.
There’s a lesson, Johnson said.