Originally created 07/20/00

Coverdell loss shakes politics



ATLANTA - One day after the death of U.S. Sen. Paul Coverdell, Georgia's political grapevine is humming with names of possible successors.

Gov. Roy Barnes has said he will not formally declare a vacancy and call for a special election until after Saturday's funeral for the state's senior senator. Election officials say the nonpartisan vote would coincide with the Nov. 7 general election.

Political observers, newsletter editors and pundits are circulating about a dozen names of Democrats Mr. Barnes could appoint to the seat until the election and approximately the same number of Republicans as possible candidates for the race.

A few names appearing on most lists are former Gov. Zell Miller, who ran for the seat in 1980 against then-Sen. Herman Talmadge, and U.S. Rep. Johnny Isakson, R-Marietta, who ran for the seat in 1992. Both have name recognition statewide and the ability to raise huge sums of money.

"Even a substantial person with that party's machine behind them is not going to be able to raise as much money as Paul Coverdell had on hand," Democratic consultant James E. Toney said. "Whoever is picked will have the advantages of office, but they will also be walking around with a target on their back."

Mr. Miller has shown no interest so far. Democrats asked him to run two years ago against Mr. Coverdell, but he declined.

Other names circulating include former Rep. Buddy Darden, D-Marietta, who gave Mr. Barnes his first job out of law school, Secretary of State Cathy Cox and state Sen. Steve Thompson, D-Powder Springs, the governor's floor leader in the Senate.

Like Mr. Darden, Mr. Thompson is an old and trusted friend of Mr. Barnes, who could pull votes in the Republican-heavy suburbs north of Atlanta, diluting the strength of a GOP candidate.

"Thompson is a strategist. He has a sharp political mind," Republican pollster Mark Rountree said. "He's my dark-horse favorite."

One of the first questions for Mr. Barnes is whether he appoints someone interested in running for the job in November or simply a caretaker. So far, he's not commenting.

"We're not addressing that at all until after the funeral," Barnes spokeswoman Joselyn Butler said.

Whoever the candidates are, having a statewide race for an open Senate seat will have a major impact on the election in many ways.

Current officeholders would have to give up their posts to run, creating more special elections. Legislators and congressmen who already are running for re-election who then jump to the Senate race could leave their parties to the mercy of opponents who already have been raising money and campaigning, even though new nominees would be picked to take their place.

"We've already had the earthquake. Now we've got the governor trying to put these two pieces of earth back together, and that will cause ripples throughout the state," Mr. Toney said.

The race also would bring Georgia more attention from presidential candidates George W. Bush and Al Gore.

"Barnes has got his reputation at stake in this Senate race," said Merle Black, a political scientist at Emory University. "He would have tremendous incentive to get the turnout. That would have a tremendous impact for Gore.

"The other way it affects the presidential race is Bush's campaign manager in Georgia, Senator Coverdell, is gone. He'll have to spend a lot more time here than he planned."

Names mentioned as possible successors or candidates for Sen. Paul Coverdell's seat:

Reach Walter C. Jones at (404) 589-8424.

Career highlights

Here are some highlights of Sen. Paul Coverdell's legislative career:

2000: The Agricultural Protection Act of 2000 providing $15 billion in federal assistance for farmers was enacted this month. The legislation includes Mr. Coverdell's provision for $47 million in direct payment for peanut farmers.

1999: The Coverdell-Feinstein Narcotics Kingpin Act, part of the Intelligence Authority Conference Report, was signed into law, codifying and expanding a 1995 executive order to target Colombian drug traffickers.

1998: Mr. Coverdell developed and released an investigative report by the General Accounting Office exposing the Internal Revenue Service for targeting low-income wage earners and small businesses in Georgia for random audits.

He introduced legislation, the IRS Random Audit Prohibition Act, to prohibit the agency from randomly auditing taxpayers.

1997: As chairman of the Agriculture Subcommittee on Marketing, Inspection and Product Promotion, Mr. Coverdell secured passage of his proposal to increase research on improving food safety.

His Volunteer Protection Act, which shields volunteers from outrageous lawsuits involving charitable and nonprofit activities, was signed into law.

1996: He sponsored a bill to curb retroactive taxes.

1994: He was instrumental in killing President Clinton's health care plan.

1993: He began pushing for a way to limit retroactive tax increases.