Granted, that may have been hard to swallow as the man with the best name recognition of any of the possible candidates announced his decision. But consider the bigger picture. Young may actually have won, especially if U.S. Rep. Johnny Isakson didn't make it out of the crowded Republican primary field. And at his age, 71, Young probably would have served just one term, and it's hard to argue that recycling officeholders from the civil rights era is good for the long-term health of Georgia's Democratic Party.
Now there's a chance for the party to find new blood to energize a new generation of voters and maybe focus on grassroots tactics that have proven effective for insurgent Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean. Michelle Nunn, 36, the president of CityCares and daughter of former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, and Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond, 50, are considered frontrunners to replace Young as the high-profile name in the race. (State Sen. Mary Squires, D-Norcross, also plans to campaign for the seat.)
In an e-mail, Nunn states that she will announce her decision after consulting with family and friends.
"I really believe strongly in grassroots organizing and this would be central to the kind of campaign that I would aspire to run," Nunn writes. "It also fits very well with my background of community service and volunteer organizing."
But Thurmond made clear Friday that he would not get involved in a campaign without the backing of the party and reiterated that it was time the party's leadership decided on a consensus candidate. Republicans already have the jump in fundraising and organizing their network for the coming campaign.
"We can't allow ourselves to go through another three months or nine months of the flavor-of-the-week strategy," Thurmond says. "Everyone needs to step back a moment and say, 'OK. What do we need to do to not just field a respectable candidate, but what do we need to do to win?'"
Thurmond says the state's prominent Democrats -- such as former governors and senators, party chairman and state Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus, and other active Democrats should decide on a candidate. Until that happens, Thurmond says, "you don't really have a reasonable chance of winning. Why it hasn't occurred is a mystery to me."
As for Young, his remarkably upbeat announcement was a highly unexpected switch. Just three days before his press conference, Creative Loafing spoke at length with a member of Young's inner circle; at that point, everything still pointed to a run.
And some of Young's logic for withdrawing from consideration seemed dubious. He cited conversations with U.S. Sen. Zell Miller in which Georgia's senior senator pointed out that Washington was -- holy shit! -- a partisan environment. That's a funny thing for Miller to say because according to a recent Congressional Quarterly story, on so-called party unity votes, Miller voted with Democrats only 9 percent of the time -- 16 out of 217 votes. Five Republicans voted more often with the Democrats, including U.S. Sen. John McCain, D-Arizona.
The most believable reason Young cited for taking his name out of consideration was his admission that "I was afraid that I would win." While Young could be mistaken for a man 20 years his junior, spending the next six years of his life fighting in Washington probably did seem like a prison sentence of sorts, a fact he as much admitted. "I began to see the Senate as very confining," Young said. "I would be limited to Georgia, more or less, as a candidate."
The former ambassador said he saw himself more as a member of a movement, but he didn't have any specific plans for beginning a new organization. He said, however, he would continue to work for voter education and registration and be involved in peace initiatives because he'd rather see "a foreign policy that sends its old men to negotiate than its young men and women to die," a clear dig at the Bush administration's problems in Iraq.
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