Politics in Augusta promise to be hotter than a pig on a spit for the next two months as Mayor Larry Sconyers tries to fend off five opponents who want his job.
Although all six candidates have vowed to run clean races with no mudslinging, that will all fly out the window by mid-October, said state Sen. Charles Walker, who's been through more than one tough election himself.
"By October 15th, they'll be fighting like cats and dogs," he said. "As soon as they do a poll and find out they're losing, they're going to start it. And I'll tell you the first one that is going to do it -- the first one that gets the poll and finds out he's behind."
Qualifying ended Friday with no surprises. The closest thing to one was that Augusta Commissioner Moses Todd really did give up his seat on the commission to qualify just as he said he would, despite much speculation he'd never do it.
Mr. Todd, 48, qualified Thursday, as did Kenneth Winters, a 55-year-old disabled veteran who qualified as a pauper.
Qualifying earlier in the week were Mayor Larry Sconyers, 56; former city of Augusta mayor Ed McIntyre, 65; news anchor Bob Young, 51; and military retiree Elmer Singley, 57.
One promise candidates made will be honored though, Mr. Walker said. And that is the promise not to make race an issue.
"The race card won't work in Richmond County because it's about 50-50 black and white, and most people are not racists," he said. "So whoever plays the race card is going to lose.
"You can play it in Columbia County, but not Richmond. You play that race card that means you're getting a lot of people dead-set against you. Either race."
Mr. Walker sees three evenly matched and financed major candidates in the race -- Mr. Sconyers, Mr. McIntyre and Mr. Young.
"Quite frankly, the issue I think is going to boil down to whether Ed or Sconyers can win the election without a runoff," he said.
Mr. Sconyers will draw his support from the "South Augusta Mafia," the name given to a group of men who started meeting in the 1950s to drink grapefruit juice and bourbon and talk politics on Saturday mornings. They controlled most of the politics in Richmond County for years.
While most of the old heads are gone, Sheriff Charles Webster and a few others carry on the tradition. And Mr. Webster is behind Mr. Sconyers in this race as he was in 1995.
Mr. Walker identified the local Mafia today this way:
"It's the bail bondsmen, the liquor store owners, the small business owners, the guy that owns the seed and feed store," he said. "The guy that sells lumber and owns the hardware store.
"It's that group of people who feel that Larry represents their point of view in government. He may not be a visionary, but he represents their point of view ... and they're not going to give it up."
Mr. McIntyre's supporters are basically black voters within the former city limits and a "reasonable percentage" of black middle-class voters in south Augusta, Mr. Walker said.
"I say reasonable percentage because most of these people do not know Ed," Mr. Walker said. "He's going to have to compete with the black middle-class vote along with Bob Young and Larry Sconyers."
Mr. McIntyre and the other candidates have said they will target no particular groups but will campaign diligently throughout the county.
Pure racial politics won't work anyway because people are looking for answers and solutions, Mr. Walker said.
"They will vote along racial lines, but race will not be the final determinant," he said. "That was proven with David Watkins in the state court judge's race. It was proven with Michael Thurmond and Steve Henson in the labor commissioner's race.
"Some people will vote along racial lines. We'll never get away from that, but it is not the final determinant."
Meanwhile, if Bob Young could pull together a coalition of west Augusta and the urban vote -- which may not be a natural constituency for him, he could "be a surprise," Mr. Walker said.
"Bob Young has the universe to draw from," Mr. Walker said. "In my opinion, he has no major core constituency. That's an uphill fight."
Mr. Young has said his strategy will be countywide and will not target any particular area or segment of the population.
Asked about Mr. Todd, Mr. Walker called him a bundle of contradictions.
"That's all I can say about Moses," he said.
His support will come from the disenchanted and the disenfranchised, which is about 4 percent to 6 percent of the voters, Mr. Walker said.
Mr. Todd said he would expect Mr. Walker to downplay his chances of winning because he took the senator on about his county sidewalk building program and voted against his son's request for a federal grant for a training program for B.L.'s Restaurant.
"When I speak of political influence being used to pressure local government to make grants and loans, certainly Mr. Walker fits in that mold," Mr. Todd said.
"You know Mr. Walker said I'd never qualify and give up a job that paid $12,000 a year, so do you expect him now to say I have a chance to win?"
Mr. Todd said he will draw his greatest support from blue collar workers, working folks, taxpayers and people who know his record.
One potential candidate who opted not to run after Mr. Young committed to do so said he hopes the campaign will be issue-oriented.
"I'd like to see a vehicle where the candidates could address issues, such as growth, economic development, the water commission that's being proposed and tell the public what they will do about them," said former Commissioner Rob Zetterberg.
"Larry's going to have to belly up to the bar and tell people what he's done about some of these issues," he said. "Moses is certainly an honest man, but I don't think Moses has the skills to lead the city.
"And Bob Young is going to have to tell me what he's going to do. What I hear most people saying about Ed McIntyre is, `He had his chance."'
To win, a candidate must receive 45 percent of the vote. If no candidate receives that percentage, there will be a runoff between the top two vote-getters Nov. 24.
The deadline for registering to vote in the November election is Oct. 5, said Lynn Bailey, executive director of the Richmond County Board of Elections.
About 93,000 people are expected to be registered to vote. The mayor's race is the last race on the 12-page ballot, and Mr. Young's name is the last one on the ballot.
There are five constitutional amendments and five statewide referendums on the ballot, as well as one county referendum pertaining to homestead exemption for people who are permanently disabled and have an income of less than $20,000 a year, Mrs. Bailey said.
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