The buzz about Barnes 

Could Dems tap another Southerner in 2004?

If George W. Bush wins, would Al Gore risk losing to him again?

Gore isn't the most loved man among Democrats, and his failure to convert his successful vice presidency into a landslide White House win could leave Dems scrambling for a candidate in 2004.

If the party followed its own guidebook for selecting a candidate, chances are it could take a close look at our own Gov. Roy Barnes. Historically, Democrats have relied on a Southern moderate governor to reclaim the White House from the Republicans, i.e. Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton.

As early as last January, politico and pundit circles started throwing out the scenario that, should Bush win in 2000, Barnes would be a contender for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004. Some folks, including a former staff member in Barnes' own office, said Gore had Barnes on his VP shortlist.

Barnes has strongly denied that he has any national aspirations. Of course, no one in their right mind would admit they might try for a national office in 2004 if they had to run for governor again in 2002. Barnes is too savvy for that.

Other points that suggest Barnes would make a good presidential prospect:

Barnes kept his mouth shut about the state flag last session, but the issue is sure to come up again. Imagine if he successfully brokered a deal that would remove the Confederate emblem from Georgia's flag. Back in 1992, then-Gov. Zell Miller gained the national spotlight when he supported changing Georgia's flag.

Also, Barnes' environmental record ain't too shabby, even by Gore's standards. Over the last two years, he's rammed a green-space plan and the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, an agency created specifically to get a handle on Atlanta's traffic and smog problems, down the throats of rural legislators.

But Barnes faces a major hurdle in the national Democratic Party because of his cozy relationship with the National Rifle Association. The NRA supported him over GOP Guy Millner in the 1998 governor's race, a move that was seen as crucial for Barnes' victory. He returned the favor by signing NRA-backed legislation that makes it illegal for cities in Georgia to sue gun manufacturers.

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