Today’s Courier Herald Column:
Monday, this Atlanta based column on Georgia politics comes to South Georgia. Four candidates have qualified to be the GOP challenger to John Barrow, and each is scheduled to appear in a debate this evening in Vidalia. The Tattnall Auditorium on the campus of Southeastern Technical College will be the venue for the festivities, which will begin at 7pm.
I am honored to be on the panel asking questions of the candidates, along with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Jim Galloway, local TEA Party leader Jim Anderson, and the immediate past Chairman of the Georgia College Republicans Elliott Echols. Zach Fowler, General Manager of Vidalia Communications, will moderate the debate.
Questions will be on the economy and jobs, taxes and budget issues, social issues, national security, healthcare, Constitutional issues, or other topics of choice. If time permits, we may even weigh in on the controversial issue that divides Georgians over whether any green vegetable should be allowed in Brunswick stew.
Unique among this crowd of candidates is that there is no clear front runner at this time. Many are also relatively unknown. As such, debates and similar public appearances have the opportunity for individual candidates to break from the pack.
The southern end of district twelve is also the area for candidates to distinguish themselves from the others. Three candidates – Rick Allen, Lee Anderson, and Wright McLeod are from the Augusta area in the northern corner of the district. The fourth, Maria Sheffield, recently moved to the Dublin area from suburban Atlanta. As such, each is relatively unknown to large numbers of voters throughout the southern end of the district.
Rick Allen and Wright McLeod have distinguished themselves as the fundraising leaders of the race through the March reporting period, with Anderson not too far behind. Anderson was serving in the Georgia General Assembly during much of the last reporting period.
Early fireworks in the race are between the two fundraising leaders. Allen’s campaign manager has filed an ethics charge against McLeod with the Federal Elections Commission claiming McLeod has failed to fully itemize disclosures of expenses, that the campaign has used other FEC disclosure reports to solicit campaign contributions, and that he has accepted contributions exceeding limits.
McLeod’s campaign staff has dismissed the charges as campaign politics, drawing a bit of a rebuke from the Savannah Morning News’ Larry Peterson. Peterson, admitting he may be a bit cynical in a Sunday editorial, believes McLeod isn’t helping himself by not directly addressing the claims or their merits. He notes that FEC investigations tend to take many months, and will likely not yield any results to the public until well after the election.
McLeod’s camp is undaunted, and would like to point out that cynicism works both ways, as a baseless complaint takes just as long to work its way through the system. For now, they choose to continue their campaign rather than diverting the candidate’s attention with what they are considering a clerical issue. The candidates, however, will likely get to weigh in directly on the matter this evening.
The purpose and design of the debate will not be one on one fighting, but an opportunity for the candidates to explain their philosophies on governments, policy, and issues that will affect our country during the next Congress and beyond.
With no clear front runner, each vote will matter more than usual. The relative unfamiliarity of the voters in the southern part of the district with each of the candidates also allows for those who have observed and interacted with the candidates to influence more of their friends and neighbors than usual. It is anyone’s race to win, and the voters in the Southern corner of the district are wide open as to where they may swing their votes.
As such, if you are undecided in this race or haven’t yet heard from all the candidates, I would encourage you to join us in Vidalia this evening. And should you have the opportunity before or after the debate, please stop by and say hello.