He’s Young at Heart

Civil Rights Leader, 71, Preparing for Senate Bid

Posted September 2, 2003 at 5:45pm

Nine months after Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.) announced he would not seek re-election in 2004, Democrats appear poised to coalesce behind former Atlanta Mayor and U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, who has emerged as their consensus candidate in a race already billed as an uphill battle for the party.

Although Young has said he will decide whether to seek the Senate seat by the end of September, sources in Washington and Georgia confirmed Tuesday that Young’s status as in the race is all but official.

“He’s running,” said one state Democratic strategist, describing Young’s commitment to the race as “99 percent, if not higher.”

The strategist also said Young is in the process of hiring consultants and getting other campaign-related ducks in a row before making an official announcement.

“He appears all but certain to run and could announce his intentions to run at any time,” added a D.C.-based Democratic strategist.

Young, a prominent figure during the civil rights movement and a former Congressman, began to emerge as the party’s de facto candidate last month after all of the statewide elected Democrats, including Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, Secretary of State Cathy Cox and Attorney General Thurbert Baker, passed on the Senate race earlier this year. Michelle Nunn, the daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and president of an Atlanta-based nonprofit organization, briefly considered running but said she would defer to Young.

State Sen. Mary Squires, who is not well-known statewide, is the only other Democrat in the race.

Four Republicans are currently vying for the Senate nomination: Reps. Johnny Isakson and Mac Collins, as well as businessmen Herman Cain and Al Bartell. Both Cain and Bartell are black.

While Democrats have not been successful in electing black Senate candidates in the South, party strategists say that Young has unique qualifications beyond those of former mayors Harvey Gantt and Ron Kirk, two of the most recent unsuccessful black candidates.

Gantt, a former mayor of Charlotte, lost to then-Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) in 1990 and 1996, taking 47 percent and 46 percent of the vote. After being hyped by national party strategists early in the cycle, Kirk, a former Dallas mayor, eventually lost a 2002 open-seat contest in Texas by a disappointing 12-point margin.

However, the D.C. strategist noted that Young “appeals across races and across political lines” because of his background.

“A lot of people run for the United States Senate to become senior statesmen,” the strategist said. “If Andy Young runs for the Senate from Georgia, he’ll be running as a senior statesman.”

Following his work with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in the civil rights movement, Young, now 71, was elected to Congress in 1972 and served until he was appointed U.N. ambassador in 1977 by then-President Jimmy Carter (D). He resigned that post in 1979 and was elected mayor of Atlanta in 1981. He held that job through 1989, lost a Democratic primary for governor to Miller in 1990, and then was co-chairman of the 1996 centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta.

Still, the Democrat in Georgia acknowledged the November election will be tight, even though “conventional wisdom will be with Isakson” if he is the Republican nominee. The strategist predicted that Young would need only 31 percent or 32 percent of the white vote to win and estimated that his floor would be about 47 percent.

“It’s a very, very close race either way,” the strategist said. “If [Young] does lose it’s not going to be by very much, and if he wins it’s not going to be by a lot.”

Democrats note that black voter turnout is traditionally higher in presidential election years and that Georgia has a higher percentage black population than North Carolina and Texas.

Geography will also play a key role in the race.

If Isakson and Young are their parties’ respective nominees, the race will be billed as a metro-Atlanta showdown, which could potentially suppress GOP turnout in the more rural, southern part of the state.

One of the keys to the GOP’s overwhelming success in Georgia’s 2002 statewide elections was rural voter turnout in south Georgia, the home base of both now-Gov. Sonny Perdue (R) and now-Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R).

That geographical dynamic would change, however, if Collins, who represents a rural, sprawling district that runs south of Atlanta, was to win the nomination.

But while the Republican base in Georgia was highly motivated in 2002, in part because of controversy surrounding the state flag, Democrats at this point are hopeful that they will reap similar benefits from their base voters in 2004. There are no other statewide elections on the ballot next year and Georgia is not expected to be contested in the presidential race. President Bush won Georgia by a convincing 12-point margin in the 2000 election.

“Core Democrats are really, really mad,” the state party strategist said, noting the same constituency is helping to fuel the insurgent presidential campaign of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (D). “Anger and/or fear is a much better motivator [for voting] than satisfaction, and that will help us here.”