12-05-2016  8:43 am      •     

Atlanta --The Democratic nomination for Georgia governor is Roy Barnes' to lose.
With about five weeks left until the state's July 20 primary, the former governor is the prohibitive favorite for his party's nod.
He has the most money by far. His television ads are up around the state. And he's racking up an impressive list of endorsements. Casting himself as "an outsider with experience,'' Barnes has been trying to have it both ways in a year where anti-incumbent winds are blowing strong yet a track record handling the state's tough fiscal problems also matters.
So, can anyone else in the seven-man race catch him?
The most likely spoiler is Attorney General Thurbert Baker. Baker has been the state's top lawyer for 13 years and won recent praise among party loyalists for refusing Gov. Sonny Perdue's order to sue the Obama administration over a new federal health care law. Baker is also the state's most prominent black politician heading into a primary where about half the electorate is expected to be African American.
But Baker has had a sometimes rocky relationship with the black community. He was assailed by black leaders in 2007 when he appealed a court's decision to release Genarlow Wilson, a black teenager serving a lengthy prison sentence for consensual oral sex with another teenager.
Baker has been running a low-key campaign so far, rolling out several proposals aimed at creating jobs in the state _ more nurses and a venture capital fund to attract the biotech industry. But that's likely to change as the campaign heads into the final weeks. Political experts say Baker must take the gloves off to make up ground.
On Thursday, Barnes unveiled endorsements from several prominent black leaders in DeKalb County _ Baker's home turf. If Baker is to give Barnes a run, the Stone Mountain lawyer will have to perform well in the populous Democratic stronghold. Baker has the support of U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson and DeKalb County Sheriff Thomas Brown.
To win, Barnes will have to win significant support from black voters. He has also unveiled endorsements from past Atlanta mayors Shirley Franklin and Andrew Young, both leaders in the African American community.
Barnes been busy apologizing _ notably to teachers _ who were turned off by his style in 2002, when he suffered a humbling loss to Republican Sonny Perdue.
Attention has mainly centered on Barnes and Baker. But others are in the race fighting to be heard.
House Minority Leader DuBose Porter has touted his record fighting for schools and education during an 18-year career in the state Legislature. But the Dublin newspaper publisher has struggled to raise money. And the most attention he's received was when his wife, Carol, announced she was running for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor, which prompted a number of stories about the novelty of Georgia's campaigning couple.
Former Georgia National Guard Commander David Poythress, like Porter, has a long career of public service, including stints at secretary of state and labor commissioner. He has also been fighting to gain traction in the race.
The other Democrats who have qualified to run are former Ray City Mayor Carl Camon, state Rep. Randal Mangham of Decatur and computer programmer Bill Bolton of Marietta.
Barnes will need 50 percent plus one vote to avoid a runoff. That's a tall order in a race with so many candidates.
Still, Republicans are already portraying him as their rival come November. The state Republican Party has launched a website attacking Barnes as if he's the nominee. And the GOP candidates vying for their party's nomination talk about how they are best equipped to defeat Barnes, treating him as a de facto incumbent.
State Democratic Party Chairwoman Jane Kidd disputes that and said if anyone can benefit from the anti-incumbent mood this year it is Democrats _ no matter who is their nominee.
"It's been eight years of Sonny Perdue. Republicans are the incumbents,'' Kidd said.

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