Richard Hyatt: Jason Carter following in his grandfather's footsteps

April 19, 2014 

Thirty-eight years after his grandfather’s hometown helped get him elected president of the United States, Jason Carter is banking on Plains to boost his chances of becoming governor of Georgia.

He was barely potty trained when Jimmy Carter went to the White House and he doesn't always agree with his grandfather's politics, but Jason is inviting supporters to write a healthy check for the opportunity to spend a weekend in June with Miss Lillian's oldest son.

For $12,600 a person -- $20,000 for a couple -- donors can hang out with Jimmy and Rosalynn in the small town that was a soundstage for the only Georgian ever elected president. They'll even get their picture taken with them.

Jason doesn't remember the hoopla or the photo ops in the peanut fields. He was born in 1975, while his grandfather was living at the Governor's Mansion. Now he's trying to capture the charm of a town that doesn't have a traffic light and invoke the living history of the nation's 39th president.

Jason Carter can use Plains because his grandfather did. It was an unusual strategy in 1976 and a risky one today.

Scott Buchanan -- a political science professor at The Citadel -- is awaiting publication of his second book on the Georgia governor's office. He doesn't recall another candidate that used his heritage like Jimmy Carter. That includes Jason Carter's probable opponent in November -- incumbent Nathan Deal, a Republican who seldom calls attention to his hometown of Gainesville.

"You know where they are from but they haven't used it as political currency like Jimmy Carter," said Buchanan, former chairman of the political science department at Columbus State University.

For the younger Carter, there are risks.

"Jason Carter's people are obviously trying to use Jimmy as a calling card, but if you talk to a lot of swing voters they don't think he was the best president we ever had. And how many voters in Georgia were even born in 1976? Time marches on, and Jimmy could be a potential liability."

But if the 38-year-old state senator with the familiar last name is going to embrace his grandfather, he must also embrace the rich soil that nurtured him, the isolated village that has always been his home, and the political liabilities that he carries like a large jar of Peter Pan peanut butter.

-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at hyatt31906@knology.net.

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