Charlie Harper: Reed reluctant to take on Deal

January 18, 2014 

In the frigid cold of early January, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed offered a wet blanket to Democrats hoping to take back the Governor's mansion this November. On a day when temperatures dropped to the single digits, the chill from the mayor towards Senator Jason Carter was still quite noticeable.

In remarks after the mayor's inauguration for a second term -- a term for which the mayor saw little organized opposition -- Kasim Reed was remembering publicly that he still lacked support from those whom it would have cost nothing.

"I've won for mayor twice and Jason didn't support me" he told members of the media. He did, unenthusiastically, note that he would support the nominee of his party. Yet support has many meanings, and has left Georgia's newly enthused Democrats with many unanswered questions. Will the mayor's support come with a "get out the vote" effort from Atlanta's political machine? It is, after all, a critical mechanism for statewide Democrats. As such, the hopes of not only Jason Carter but Michelle Nunn hang in the balance.

There are at least three potential motivations behind the mayor's stance and statement. There's likely a bit of all three that will affect the amount of effort the Mayor puts to helping one of his local State Senators and future potential rivals in his quest to take an important office from Republican hands.

The first is the obvious stated reason. The Mayor is a man with a memory, and he remembers that Carter declined to support not only his long-shot initial candidacy, but also his no-risk reelection bid. The first sin can be forgiven with time and contrition. But the failure of support for a race Reed was sure to win demonstrates more of the budding rivalry that exists between the two greatest superstars on Georgia's Democratic bench.

The second reason is that as Georgia Democrats rebuild their party and brand, they do not yet have an elected face to project as the leader. As such, there is an open question as to whether the Democratic Party will be the party of Kasim Reed or of Jason Carter. It does seem each is keenly aware of the opportunity to put a personal brand on Georgia's Democrats. Thus while politics is often a team sport, we have two potential rival starting quarterbacks reluctant to help the other showcase his talents on the field.

While the topic at hand is the 2014 governor's race, you would have to forgive both men if 2018 isn't weighing on their minds. Most Democrats still privately concede that this year is a long shot for their efforts, hinging as much on errors from Republicans as their ability to put their best campaign effort forward. 2018, however, will have far fewer incumbents on the ballot and four more years of demographic shifts that favor their party. It will also be a year that Kasim Reed will be looking for a new job, perhaps the one that Jason Carter is seeking now.

Meanwhile, the man that Senator Carter wishes to unseat has been an unlikely ally of the mayor. Governor Nathan Deal and Mayor Reed have worked hand in hand on matters of the Savannah Port, helping resolve the Atlanta School Board crisis, and the ultimately unsuccessful metro Atlanta T-SPLOST campaign.

Which helps explain the context of the third reason the mayor may be reluctant to give full support to a Carter gubernatorial candidacy. At this time the mayor has nothing to gain, and possibly a good working relationship to lose, should he decide to begin working against a governor he has thus far been fairly successful in working with.

Reed and Deal have gained national notoriety for working together across the political aisle in an era that derides bi-partisanship. Reed is also keenly aware that if he is to execute any dreams of being elected statewide, he cannot be seen as an Atlanta machine Democrat, but must be able to project that he understands the problems of the whole state. Problems like traffic in Atlanta's suburbs and the importance of a deeper port of Savannah.

Reed's close working relationship with the governor helps Deal now and will likely serve the mayor well in the future. It makes sense, then, for the mayor to keep his cards close to the vest for a bit longer. Perhaps four years longer.

Charlie Harper, author and editor of the Peach Pundit blog, writes on Georgia politics and government; www.peachpundit.com.

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