ATLANTA - One thing won't do it, but several might.
Republicans concede that dissatisfaction among teachers with Gov. Roy Barnes' education reforms won't be enough to ruin the Democrat's re-election chances in the fall.
Anger, particularly among rural whites, over his lead role in shrinking the Confederate battle emblem on the state flag won't be sufficient to deny a Georgia governor a second term for the first time in history, they acknowledge.
And, they say, outrage among the GOP faithful over the damage done to Republican incumbents during redistricting won't be enough to send Mr. Barnes packing.
Instead, Republicans hope those issues and other potential vulnerabilities they see in Mr. Barnes will unite enough disenchanted groups of voters to pull off an upset.
"If you throw all those things in together, it creates a problem for him," said House Minority Leader Lynn Westmoreland, R-Sharpsburg.
|GOV. BARNES AUDIO|
But Mr. Barnes' defenders say the governor's willingness to take on difficult challenges has won him as many admirers as enemies.
Their argument goes like this: For every teacher opposing Mr. Barnes' education policies, there's a parent welcoming his reforms. For every voter clinging to the state flag adopted in 1956, there's a business owner relieved over the quick resolution of the flag flap before it turned into a tourism boycott.
"The issues he's given attention to aren't easy issues," said Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus, the chairman of the state Democratic Party. "When you do that, you're going to take some criticism."
Add to Mr. Barnes' image as an activist governor a war chest that promises to dwarf any Republican challenger who emerges from the summer primary.
The financial-disclosure report the governor's campaign will release in the next week or two is widely expected to show that Mr. Barnes has raised as much as $10 million.
With that challenge, Republicans have seized on education reform as an issue for the 2002 campaign.
The major elements of the overhaul, including smaller class sizes and increased accountability for pupils and teachers, began to take shape last year with his massive reform bill.
The state launched two programs aimed at a chronic teacher shortage, making it easier for people with content knowledge but lacking education degrees to become teachers while working toward certification.
Ralph Noble, the president of the Georgia Association of Educators, called the initiatives a quick-fix approach, citing insufficient pay and lack of support as long-term problems.
While defending teacher pay in Georgia as the highest in the Southeast, Mr. Barnes acknowledged the need to improve teacher preparation and give new teachers more help through mentors. To increase the supply of new teachers, he said, he's asking the University of Georgia's School of Education to boost its capacity.
This year, Mr. Barnes took the most heat over his position on changing the flag and his behind-the-scenes support for the new congressional and legislative maps.
While some critics accused the governor of turning his back on his heritage by sponsoring the new flag, others were unhappy over the process Democrats used to push the redesign through the General Assembly in just six days.
Mr. Barnes called the process argument a "dodge" by those unwilling to face an issue that needed to be addressed.
"I watched South Carolina and the pain they went through and how it divided the state," he said. "I just didn't want our people divided."
Mr. Westmoreland said Mr. Barnes' stand on the flag will hurt him among traditionally Democratic voters.
"A lot of people who were against changing the flag voted for the Democrats (last year)," he said.
Campaigning on the flag could backfire on Republicans if it stirs flag supporters to come out and vote for Mr. Barnes. So Republicans are talking about another, less risky issue: redistricting.
Republicans already have been traveling the state with posters showing the oddly shaped congressional and legislative districts Democratic leaders shoved through the General Assembly during back-to-back special sessions in August and September.
Mr. Bullock said Republicans won't find redistricting an easy sell to voters beyond the party's loyal base.
"It doesn't affect most people's pocketbooks, and it's hard to boil it down to a bumper-sticker slogan," he said.
Even as Republicans set their sights on redistricting as a campaign issue, another potential vulnerability for Mr. Barnes has emerged in the form of Georgia's recession.
But Senate Majority Leader Charles Walker, D-Augusta, said voters are savvy enough not to hold Mr. Barnes responsible for the tough times, particularly in light of the damage wreaked on the economy by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"The governor will not be blamed for the downturn, and he shouldn't be," Mr. Walker said.
On his education reforms:
"I'm not sure we fully recognize the changes that have occurred in education in this state."
On sponsoring legislation changing the state flag:
"About the last thing I wanted to get into was the flag. ... (But) one thing I promised when I ran was I would not run from difficult issues."
On opponents' argument that the flag change was shoved through too quickly:
"The flag change ... was passed in about the same time, in fact a little longer time, than the 1956 flag (change). Where were these people ... in 1956, (when the flag was) pushed through by a legislature that had not one minority member?"
On Republicans' argument that Democrats took partisan advantage of redistricting without considering compactness of districts or communities of interest:
"Do they criticize the process in Virginia, where the Republican governor and Republican legislature placed 12 to 18 Democratic incumbents together, including the former speaker of the House and majority leader, or Pennsylvania, where they put eight (congressional) Democrats together?"
On criticism of his managerial style as too overbearing:
"You can't win in this business. You're either criticized as being a do-nothing governor or you do too much."
On accomplishing the goals he set forth during the campaign:
"I think that the mechanisms are there to bring about change, but I think because they're knotty problems, it's going to take a long time."
Senate Minority Leader Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, on Barnes' managerial style:
"Every time you turn around, instead of working with people as part of a team, it's, 'I know best. I'm going to take it over."'
Senate Majority Leader Charles Walker, D-Augusta, on Republican plans to use Barnes' sponsorship of changing the flag against him:
"Most people in Georgia are opposed to turning back the clock. ... Republicans will make the flag a political issue at their own peril."
House Minority Leader Lynn Westmoreland, R-Sharpsburg, on Barnes' ability to attract new supporters in 2002:
"I haven't had a single person come up to me and say, 'I didn't vote for Roy Barnes last time, but I'm sure going to give him a shot this time.' "
Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus, chairman of the state Democratic Party, on Barnes' handling of the recession:
"We're in pretty good shape compared to other states ... A lot of it has to do with the governor's leadership, his conservative (revenue) forecasts."
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