ATLANTA — Jason Carter, a grandson of former President Carter, said moments before filing the paperwork to run for governor on Thursday morning that he expects to have a clear field in running for the Democratic nomination.
“I don’t anticipate any opposition,” Carter told Morris News Service.
Former state Sen. Connie Stokes announced she is shifting her five-month campaign for the nomination to lieutenant governor instead. State Democratic leaders applauded the Carter-Stokes ticket.
Her decision allows him to keep his seat in the Senate for the session that begins Jan. 13, where he can gain free media exposure and criticize Gov. Nathan Deal.
Carter said that he has regularly used his Senate seat as a platform to oppose Deal’s education budget, cuts to the HOPE grant and tax breaks that he said focused too little on small businesses.
“I was down there arguing every day,” Carter said.
Deal’s spokesman, Brian Robinson, braced for the attacks.
“We’re focused on keeping Georgia the No. 1 place to do business and creating jobs and developing a skilled workforce,” Robinson said.
Had Stokes stayed in the governor’s race, she would have been free to raise money during the 40-day session, when Carter and Deal are blocked by state law. Carter’s decision to stay in the Senate also illustrates confidence that the fundraising benefit he’ll enjoy from his family’s political connections will allow him to match Deal’s advantages as an incumbent Republican in a state where every statewide office is held by the GOP.
Though Carter doesn’t expect a primary fight, Deal is already facing one. State school Superintendent John Barge and Dalton Mayor David Pennington are both trying to unseat the governor.
“The Democrats are coming out of the woodwork because they know the vulnerability of our current governor,” Pennington said. “If we want to keep Georgia a red state, we cannot have a candidate at the top of the Republican ticket tarnished by ethical problems and who has a poor economic record, highlighted by our state remaining at the top of the unemployment rankings.”
Carter’s grandfather also served in the Senate before his election as governor and ultimately president. The family connections are likely to provide donors from across the country and volunteers eager to support a Democratic legacy.
Jason Carter, though, said he intends to concentrate the campaign on his own ideas and the future rather than his grandfather’s past policies.
“The focus on the campaign will be on education and the economy,” he said. “I have been working on that in the Senate for years. ... The governor has stood in the way.”
Carter is an Atlanta lawyer who quickly rose in the Senate as a leader among Democrats for being articulate, well-researched and witty. He has tried to work across party lines with Republicans on some issues, but he’ll likely be rebuffed next session as GOP senators rally around a governor they personally like.
The governor’s race won’t be the only statewide contest featuring a Democratic scion. Michelle Nunn, the daughter of former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, is running for her father’s old seat, and because of the possibility of the U.S. Senate switching to Republican control and because of her father’s political contacts, her candidacy is already drawing support from across the country.
In addition, the younger Nunn is the head of a national charity created by former President George H.W. Bush, providing her with ties to major donors of both parties across the country.
“One of the good things about Michelle and I running is we will be able to help each other,” Carter said, adding that they’ll have their own campaigns but will benefit from increased enthusiasm that can improve voter turnout.