Originally created 09/19/06

Real Perdue-Taylor duel is about to start



ATLANTA - The way Sonny Perdue remembers it, it was close to Christmas in 1997 when fellow state Sen. Mark Taylor paid a visit to eat barbecue and talk about the race for lieutenant governor.

"He came to my house in Bonaire and begged me not to run," Mr. Perdue, now the governor, said in a recent interview. "He told me that he planned for this all of his life and he sure hoped I wouldn't do it."

But wait.

"That's not the way it was at all," Mr. Taylor replied with a hearty laugh when told what Mr. Perdue had said.

Mr. Taylor said Mr. Perdue, then a Democrat, had been sending mixed signals about whether he planned to get into the race.

"He was the classic Hamlet figure in deciding whether to run or not to run," Mr. Taylor said.

The competing anecdotes make one fact abundantly clear about this year's race for governor in Georgia: the face-off between Mr. Perdue and Mr. Taylor has been brewing for some time.

"It's personal," Emory University political science professor Merle Black said. "There's a history there that could make this race particularly nasty."

Mr. Perdue and Mr. Taylor are set to appear together at a candidate forum today in Duluth. The forum will not allow the candidates to debate directly. Still it's expected to be the first time Mr. Perdue and Mr. Taylor will be in the same room for an event since Mr. Taylor won his party's nomination in July. With just seven weeks until the Nov. 7 general election, the men are poised to begin face-to-face combat.

They deny personal animosity and say that although they were never friends, their relationship over the years has been cordial. Still, the pointed jabs are thinly disguised.

"We didn't go out much together," Mr. Perdue said with a tight smile.

As rising stars together in the Democratic Party, the men were certainly competitive. Mr. Perdue, then the president pro tempore of the Senate, switched parties in 1998 and became a Republican. Mr. Taylor was elected lieutenant governor later that year.

In the GOP minority, Mr. Perdue saw his legislation bottled up. When he complained, Mr. Taylor issued a withering rebuke in the Senate chamber: "Cry me a river."

Mr. Perdue maintains that he never had ambitions for statewide office, although others urged him to run.

Nonsense, Mr. Taylor said.

"The reason he chose not to run is that he concocted a way to become lieutenant governor without running. He switched parties," Mr. Taylor said. He suggested that Mr. Perdue hoped to change the post into one appointed by a majority of senators instead of elected by voters.

"If he had run, I would've defeated him," Mr. Taylor said.