ATLANTA - Longtime state lawmaker Roy Barnes shook up two top-of-the-ballot races Tuesday by dropping out of the 1998 governor's contest and announcing plans to run for lieutenant governor instead.
Pundits say Barnes' decision leaves the path to the Democratic nomination open for Lt. Gov. Pierre Howard, and muddles an already crowded lieutenant governor's race.
"I would suspect he's done some polling and realized he's running well behind Howard," said University of Georgia political scientist Charles Bullock. "It means that Pierre Howard can hope to win without a runoff."
Barnes, who lost to Zell Miller in the 1990 governor's race before winning a state House seat in 1992, said he switched contests partly because a costly primary battle with Howard might have been disastrous for Democrats.
"Whatever party has a bloody primary loses the general election," said Barnes, an attorney from the Cobb County suburb of Mableton. "(Voters) are turned off by bloody primaries and dirty campaigning. They hold it against the candidates.
"The second thing is Pierre Howard and I have been friends for 25 years," added Barnes, who served in the Senate with Howard for 16 years. "We've seen over the years that longtime friends become lifetime enemies over things like that, and I didn't want that to happen."
Howard said, "I don't think either one of us was looking forward to running against each other because of that fact. I am very grateful to him.
"It obviously helps me because a lot of the people who would have naturally supported Roy ... I think I will pick up. I think it helps me quite a bit."
Barnes and Howard were allies in what became known as the "Gang of Five," a cadre of young reformers who came to the Senate in the the Watergate-era elections of 1974.
Barnes was former Gov. Joe Frank Harris' floor leader as a senator, and developed a right-of-center reputation that was expected to hamper him in a primary bout with Howard.
Howard, Barnes, and Labor Commissioner David Poythress all filed papers late last year indicating plans to seek the Democratic nod for governor in 1998.
Miller's second term runs through 1998, and he is constitutionally prohibited from seeking a third term.
On the Republican side, millionaire executive Guy Millner, who lost to Miller in 1994 and Max Cleland for U.S. Senate in 1996, is considering taking another shot at the top spot next year. Attorney General Michael Bowers is expected to make the race as well.
Barnes joins a crowded lieutenant governor's field that is reminiscent of 1990, when Howard had to fight through a dozen challengers to win office.
Sens. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur, Steve Langford, D-LaGrange and Guy Middleton, D-Dahlonega, have already announced on the Democratic side of the race. Other Democrats who have talked about running are Sens. Charles Walker, D-Augusta; Mark Taylor, D-Albany; and Floyd Griffin, D-Milledgeville.
In the Republican primary, contenders include Fulton County Commission chairman Mitch Skandalakis, Rockdale commission chairman Randy Poynter, and Sens. Chuck Clay of Marietta and Pam Glanton of Riverdale.
When he ran for governor in 1990, Barnes raised $2.6 million for the Democratic primary. He expects to need $2 million for the lieutenant governor's primary next year, and another $2 million to $2.5 million for the general election.
"With that kind of money, it will be hard for anybody to top that," Bullock said.
Barnes had also been mentioned as a possible challenger to U.S. Sen. Paul Coverdell, R-Ga., next year. But he said working in Washington never interested him.
"I'm a Georgia boy. I live within half a mile of where I was raised," he noted. "Going off to Washington for a lifetime is not something that has ever really appealed to me."