Originally created 11/05/02

Gubernatorial candidates make final push



ATLANTA -- After two years of preparation, Gov. Roy Barnes appeared to have everything in place for Election Day.

He changed a fund-raising law to help build a huge financial lead over Republican challenger Sonny Perdue. And he helped design new election districts that could give Democrats a bigger majority in the Legislature and maybe even help the party regain a majority in Congress.

So with mere hours left in the campaign, Barnes and most of the Democratic ticket did the last thing they could do: They took to the skies for rallies in five Georgia cities, hoping to inspire a brisk turnout among the faithful despite predictions of rain.

As the tour wound down at a suburban Atlanta airport, Rep. John Lewis told several hundred chanting, clapping, sign-waving Democrats: "One more day, one more river to cross. Let's get out there and do it."

Perdue looked to rally his troops as well, but began his day in an unconventional way, mixing with morning commuters on Atlanta's rapid rail system and greeting office workers in two state buildings.

"Hey, Governor," one woman hailed him. He beamed.

Barnes was joined on the swing through Columbus, Albany, Savannah, Macon and Atlanta by two Democratic U.S. senators, one of them - Max Cleland - locked in a tight battle in Tuesday's election with Republican Saxby Chambliss.

The other was Zell Miller, a popular former governor who put his prestige behind the Democratic re-election effort.

At Peachtree DeKalb Airport, the tour's last stop, Miller called Cleland his hero and described Barnes as "a governor who knows how to translate his vision into reality."

"I'm glad he's my governor," Miller added.

In his own speech to the crowd, Barnes lambasted Republicans for negative ads, particularly those aimed at Cleland. "It's time for us to vote and tell folks we're not going to put up with any campaign like this ever again," he said.

Barnes' aggressive fund-raising and record spending - $19.1 million reported so far - gave him the ability to buy TV time early and use it often. His ads have been a staple of television fare for four months.

A law the governor and fellow Democrats passed in 2000 raised campaign contribution limits, allowing candidates like Barnes to raise record amounts of cash.

Barnes also immersed himself in redistricting last year when it came time to draw new legislative and congressional district lines to account for population growth.

The Democrat-controlled Legislature devised maps intended to widen their majorities in the Legislature at the expense of Republicans and to overturn the GOP majority in Congress.

But some of the congressional races are proving more troublesome than Democrats expected, particularly in a new 12th District designed to easily elect one of their own.

Perdue ended his tour of the Atlanta rapid rail system at a station near the Capitol, where he said he was not concerned by a pre-election poll that showed Barnes with a double-digit lead.

"I'm encouraged by where we are," he said.

The state workers he greeted in an adjacent building were polite. Some were warm.

Tonya Cooper, who would say only that she worked in state government, said she found Perdue to be "a good man with a kind heart with a warm smile."

Perdue planned trips to Columbus, Macon and Augusta with some of his running mates.