Toss-Up For Next Georgia Governor

By John Celock

A new poll shows that the next Georgia governor’s race is a battle of name recognition, with a former president’s grandson establishing an early lead.

A Public Policy Poll released Thursday shows former state Sen. Jason Carter, the unsuccessful 2014 Democratic gubernatorial nominee, remaining competitive with two potential Republican candidates who already hold statewide office, while Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed (D) leads the field in name recognition. Gov. Nathan Deal (R) is term limited.

The poll indicated that Reed, a second term mayor, holds a 61 percent name recognition compared to 59 percent for Carter, the grandson of former President Jimmy Carter. On the Republican side Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle holds 48 percent name recognition statewide, while Secretary of State Brian Kemp holds 33 percent name recognition.

Reed’s high name recognition is a testament to his six and a half years as mayor of Georgia’s largest city and exposure to residents in the state’s population center. Carter’s stems largely from his 2014 gubernatorial campaign and family name. While Cagle has held statewide office since 2007 and Kemp since 2011, both offices provide lesser public attention stemming largely from the duties assigned to both.

The poll indicating though that Carter is the stronger Democrat in head-to-head match-ups with the two Republicans. Carter leads Kemp 40 percent to 38 percent and trails Cagle 40 percent to 39 percent. Cagle leads Reed 46 percent to 33 percent, while Kemp leads Reed 43 percent to 33 percent.

While Reed’s high name recognition stems from his leadership of Atlanta, his disadvantage in the head-to-head polls could stem from his current office, with voters outside the Atlanta region not wanting to elect the city’s chief executive to the governor’s mansion. While Carter represented the Atlanta suburbs in the state Senate for five years, his family is largely associated with the rural community of Plains.

Cagle and Kemp both struggle to break out from their current offices. While lieutenant governor and secretary of state offer both the chance to run statewide and form relationships with voters and party leaders, the two offices largely sit outside the spotlight afforded to the governor.

Georgia’s lieutenant governor serves as the president of the state Senate, holding influence in the chamber and running independently from the governor. The secretary of state oversees the state’s elections and business registration processes. Previous holders of the offices have gone on to higher office, with Democrat Zell Miller turning 16 years as lieutenant governor into stints as governor and U.S. senator and Democrat Max Cleland being elected to the U.S. Senate from the secretary of state’s office.