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Primary Preview: Reed's Political Future on the Line

July is notoriously slow when it comes to primary elections. Only a few states even hold intraparty contests this month, but the good news for Fix fans is that today is one of those days.

Republican voters in Georgia will decide former Christian Coalition head Ralph Reed's political future in a lt. governor primary that has turned into a referendum on Reed's connections to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Also in Georgia, Democrats will choose their candidate in the governor's race.

Meanwhile in Alabama, Republicans will choose between George Wallace Jr., the son of the state's former governor, and attorney Luther Strange as their lt. governor nominee.

As always, we seek to provide readers with what they need to know about these races in order to impress their friends and vanquish their enemies. This post is not intended to be comprehensive.

Georgia Governor: Secretary of State Cathy Cox began the campaign for the Democratic nomination as the favorite over Lt. Gov. Mark "The Big Guy" Taylor. Democrats in the U.S. Senate tried to convince Taylor to abandon his gubernatorial ambitions to run for the state's open Senate seat in 2004, but he rejected those entreaties -- gambling that he could come back and beat Cox.

It appears that bet will pay off today. Recent polling has shown Taylor with a high single digits lead over Cox. How did Cox lose her lead? Well, Taylor deserves considerable credit for playing up his "good ole boy" credentials while also targeting the substantial black vote with ads featuring former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young. But Cox also made several major slip-ups. The most high profile misstep came when her campaign manager was forced to resign after admitting that he had altered Taylor's biography on Wikipedia to include the arrest of his 22-year old son on charges stemming from a 2005 drunk driving accident that left one person dead.

How valuable the Democratic nomination is remains an open question. When Gov. Sonny Perdue (R) upset Gov. Roy Barnes (D) in 2002, Democrats promised they would make him their top target. But four years later Perdue remains ahead in most polling -- thanks, Democrats argue, to a post-Hurricane Katrina bounce that he has never lost. Cox and Taylor are on pace to spend more than $7 million on a series of increasingly nasty television commercials, leaving whichever candidate emerges as the nominee broke and badly bruised. Perdue, on the other hand, has better than $9 million to spend on the general election.

The worst-case scenario for Democrats is if neither candidate crests 50 percent, a possibility with two other minor Democrats running. Should that happen, Cox and Taylor would face off in an Aug. 8 runoff, giving Perdue more time to sit back and raise money while his potential rivals pummel each other on the campaign trail.

Georgia Lt. Gov.: Ralph Reed has long been the golden child of Republican politics, and when he decided to run for this office he was expected to easily win the GOP nod. But, as allegations of his ties to Abramoff continued to proliferate, Reed's campaign began to flag somewhat -- both financially and in polling. He now finds himself in a dead heat with state Sen. Casey Cagle, who began the race as a political unknown. Should Reed come up short, expect significant national coverage of his defeat as the first tangible impact of the Abramoff scandal on Republicans seeking office. A Reed loss could bode poorly for other lawmakers who allegedly worked closely with Abramoff, including Ohio Rep. Bob Ney (R) and Montana Sen. Conrad Burns (R).

Alabama Lt. Gov.: On its face, it would seem that this race would be Wallace's to lose. His father's image may be a mixed bag nationally, but Wallace Sr. remains a political icon in Alabama. And speaking of political icons, Wallace Jr. also has the active support of Arizona Sen. John McCain -- perhaps the most popular Republican politician in the country at the moment. (McCain has supported Wallace as well as a number of other Alabama candidates under the belief that the state will be among the first primaries in the 2008 GOP nominating calendar.)

Strange, however, nearly won the nomination outright in the June 6, where he won 48 percent of the vote. And he has spent freely from his own pocket in the runoff, making this race a tough on to call.

Check The Fix on Wednesday for post-primary analysis.

By Chris Cillizza  |  July 18, 2006; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Governors  
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Next: Evan Bayh's Pitch Down the Middle

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