Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Following up on Leeds

Posted By on Tue, Nov 28, 2006 at 9:51 PM

You talk to Dems around this state, and very few of them are in the mood to give Democratic Party Chairman Bobby Kahn what you might call a rousing send-off. This is a cruel game, politics. And when it comes to Kahn and Mark Taylor, the two of them might as well be Captain Bligh and his first mate, set adrift in a lifeboat while the rest of the crew beats it hard to starboard or port or wherever, as long as it's the opposite direction.

Here's how things now stand in the post-Kahn era: Mike Berlon, chair of the Gwinnett County Democratic Party, has officially announced his intention to seek the chairmanship. State Sen. Doug Stoner, D-Smyrna, is taking the holidays to consider his options and is not ruling out a run.

Democratic Party Secretary Steve Leeds will have to weigh his duties as a helpmate to candidates running for national office -- a passion of his and something he's been doing for years and does well -- but as it stands now he may run again for the chairmanship.

Kahn beat Leeds three years ago.

Beat him badly.

"As George W. Bush would say, 'I got thumped,'" admits the Atlanta commercial real estate attorney, who wants to help start building the party up again from the grassroots.

Leeds argues he already has a lot of experience. A party insider for years and former campaign chairman for Sen. Max Cleland, as secretary he headed up a bylaw revision committee designed to refocus the party from district-based to county-based organization. If he does get in the race for party chair and ends up winning, he said he'd want to encourage even more county-based organizing. Much of the party's current organizational problem, in Leeds' view, relates to the fact that while it held the majority in the state for more than 100 years, the party grew to function as an arm of the governor and the governor's office.

The minority Democratic Party essentially needs to start over.

"We need to develop talent at the local level," Leeds says. "Candidate recruitment is very important. We need to find candidates who reflect what the voters believe. You look at someone like Jon Tester, who won a Senate race out in Montana. He suggests the old-time citizen/legislator. Voters look at him and are able to believe that 'he feels like us, he understands us, he thinks like us.'"

On Nov. 7, American voters gave what Leeds describes as a "two-by-four wake-up call" to the Bush administration and the Republicans controlling Congress. In the meantime, Georgia Democrats had to watch Taylor get buried at the polls in the governor's race.

"We didn't have an anti-establishment vote in part because it was hard to demonize Sonny," Leeds says. "Mark's message never resonated. A large group of independents were never reached. The base was not energized."

Leeds doesn't see the Taylor fiasco as a portent for longtime Republican Party rule in Georgia. Cobb and Gwinnett counties are becoming internationalized, he argues. People want more economic security.

"We will become a more progressive state from a social perspective," Leeds says. "What you have to remember is that Bill Clinton won Georgia in 1992 by 30,000 votes, then lost in 1996 by 30,000 votes. With the right message and outreach we can make this a competitive two-party state."

Leeds is still in the decision stage.

He has until Jan. 15.

-- Max Pizarro

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