I've already written a few times about the specter of 2018 that looms over Georgia's lawmakers and politics. Underlying that are the efforts by a number of groups to recruit candidates to the Republican field for governor, which currently includes Secretary of State Brian Kemp and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle . These include the circle around the current governor, Nathan Deal; the Republicans in the state's U.S. House delegation, from which Deal came in 2010; and the folks in the orbit of the previous governor, Sonny Perdue, as well as his cousin, U.S. Sen. David Perdue. One might reasonably infer these groups are not content with the present pair of candidates.
David Perdue was in Atlanta this week and, in addition to questions about health care (which will feature into Sunday's print column) and tax reform, I asked him about those recruitment efforts by "Team Perdue." He first acted a bit surprised -- "I must not be in Team Perdue!" -- then said, "I'd love to find somebody outside the system who could do this (but) I'm not looking for people. I'm not trying to recruit people."
He went on to talk about the race fairly extensively. But first, he addressed a persistent rumor about his own ambitions. The possibility of Perdue running for governor himself was seemingly laid to rest after November's elections put a Republican in the White House in Donald Trump, whom Perdue vocally backed as soon as it became clear he would be the GOP nominee. But in the last week or so I began to hear it crop up again. Here's our conversation:
PERDUE: "All I can tell you is I made a decision personally, that although I was encouraged by a lot of people to run for governor, that I felt like that's what typical politicians did. They get elected to one job, and then they move over and run for another job. Well frankly, I've got a higher and best use, I think, right now with my time, and with my background, in the United States Senate. The people of Georgia elected me to the Senate to try to make a difference. I've been there two years. I think it would be an abrogation of my responsibility who fought like hell to get me here, to turn around and run for governor right now. I believe they sent me to Washington to help support -- and now we've got a Republican president in there -- to help support the turnaround that we're in the midst of now. So I feel totally at peace trying to fulfill my responsibility to the people who elected me to get me up there.
ME: "So that's a firm no?"
PERDUE: "That's a firm no. Yeah. And it has been. And so, I'm at total peace with that. Now, what I hope doesn't happen is what happened in my Senate race, in that the Republicans have an open field and the Democrats come in with one candidate, and all of a sudden, we have a bloodbath in the primary, we have a big, long runoff, a nine-week runoff -- that's something that is really not productive, and it doesn't end up necessarily being the right thing to do. And it's unusual for an outside candidate with no experience to kind of get through that process. So, we kind of encourage the things that lead to so many people -- like in the United States Senate, we've got over 30 people who've been there more than 30 years, in the House and the Senate. Sixty have been there more than 20 years. And we don't have very many -- I think it's ridiculous that we have only one Fortune 500 CEO in all of Congress. That's just not right. But I know how it happens, having gone through the process. I'm not involved in trying to find a 'Perdue candidate.' Sonny and I don't even talk about it. Sonny right now is trying to get confirmed in Washington to become secretary of ag, and I'm excited about that, he's excited about that, and the people of Georgia, they'll find somebody good. And I just want it to be a Republican."
At that point, I asked him about that reasonable conclusion I mentioned above about Kemp and Cagle, only in the reverse:
ME: "There's two in the race so far, Casey Cagle and Brian Kemp. If it's just the two of them, would you be content?"
PERDUE: "Against a Democrat, absolutely.
"We’ve got to find somebody, No. 1, that can continue the economic-development momentum we have as a state. Two, can fight like hell this transactional dimension that always potentially is there around governor races. And I think the third thing is that cronyism needs to be ferreted out at every corner. This is not -- and I'm not accusing anybody of that, but it's a temptation. You can look at other states and see it. We don't have that in Georgia. And so I think those are some of the -- I'd love to find somebody ... that understands, he's got a 40-plus billion-dollar operation here. We've got big issues here. We've got infrastructure, we've got a water war going on, we've got education issues to make sure we've got a workforce development that's there, and we've got to continue to have cheap power. And I think that will continue. We've got the huge Vogtle project down there, we've got the port deepening that's important, Harstfield-Jackson continues to grow, and we've got 11 DOT projects now around the state. All this is encouraging growth, but you still have to stay competitive, and get out and work hard to do that."
My take? Perdue might not be personally vetting potential candidates to back, but I wasn't sold that he's sold on Kemp and Cagle as the only two people the GOP needs in that race.