Not much ink has been spilled here on the general election matchup between Republican Sam Olens and Democrat Ken Hodges. Yet it is one of the more compelling matchups, pits candidates with real differences against each other, and one that Democrats think they have a real chance of winning despite the Republican wave that appears to be cresting on Tuesday.
Voters should be taking more interest in this race for another reason: The winner of this contest has a leg up on being his party’s nominee for Governor in the near future. For the Democrats, this fact is evident. They are facing probable removal from all offices at the State level. Further, the remaining Democrats in Congress – Lewis, Scott, Johnson, and Barrow – are generally viewed as left of center and have only regional appeal. If elected, Ken Hodges would almost certainly become the face of the Georgia Democratic Party.
Sam Olens would be but one Republican at the state level, with another 9 or so Republican Congressmen also in office. Yet the recent train wreck of Republican Governor and Lt. Governor’s primaries has exposed a flaw that Republicans now look destined to repeat in 4 or 8 years. The Lieutenant Governor is generally the person who is expected to move up to Governor. The rest of the bench is then realigned around the openings at LG and Congress for those being groomed to higher office. Casey Cagle’s decision to seek the Governor’s race only to drop out for the relative safety of re-election threw the governor’s race into chaos from which it did not recover, and caused problems for candidates for Lt Gov and further down the ballot as candidates who had announced campaigns for higher office had to decide if they would honor their words to future voters, or retreat to re-election campaigns and wait.
When the post mortems on this campaign cycle are written, most of the problems Republicans have faced can be laid squarely at the feet of Casey Cagle. To most casual observers, there will be no problems as the Republican wave is likely to be complete. But party insiders are clearly aware this cycle should have been easier, smoother, and with a truly vetted nominee. The next statewide cycle will not likely coincide with a generational Republican wave, and they will enter that cycle as they competed in this one: Without a clear succession plan because of a flawed Lt. Governor.
Thus, Republicans need to take a strong look at Sam Olens, and work a bit harder to ensure he is part of this wave. His upward ambition has been used against him by Hodges, yet I’d rather vote for someone with ambition than for someone who has used his office and its related subpoena powers to investigate his enemies.
Further, Olens has an actual record demonstrating fiscal responsibility in his management of Cobb County. With the budget issues the next Governor is certainly going to face, having a go-to fiscal conservative in the on-deck circle for higher office will be quite valuable next time around.
Should Olens win, he is certainly not a lock on a move up to Governor or even Lt. Governor. Though most incumbent Congressmen took a pass on Governor this time, it’s possible one would reconsider in 4 years. If Deal decides to go for two terms, the number of Congressmen who may want to come home from DC could grow, along with the list of other statewide office holders who look in the mirror every morning and see a Governor.
Regardless of the timing, one thing is clear. When voters choose between Sam Olens and Ken Hodges, they’re not just choosing an Attorney General. They are also choosing a future leader of either the Republican or Democratic party.