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Party down 

Democrats need more than a pep rally to salvage the November elections

Georgia Democrats were overdue for an upbeat moment. And state Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond provided it Saturday with a speech designed to unite and energize the beleaguered party's state convention.

Thurmond evoked the state song, the Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell classic "Georgia On My Mind," when he thundered, "The melody of our state song is being drowned out by the cries of senior citizens. The melody ... is being drowned out by the cries of mothers and fathers who don't have jobs and who don't have insurance. The melody of our state is being drowned out by the cries of families going without housing.

"Hope is disappearing," Thurmond continued, "but a new day is beginning to dawn in our state. Don't give out. Don't give in. Don't give up. If we work together, pray together and most importantly, if we vote together, we can change this state. We can't allow ourselves to be separated. ... We are one. We are one. We are one!"

The crowd was pumped -- as crowds often get when Thurmond speaks. But the charismatic labor commissioner is far from the standard bearer this year for Georgia Democrats. Although Thurmond, a former state rep from Athens, last December considered a run for lieutenant governor, he opted instead to keep his slot as the eighth candidate down the Democratic ticket.

At the top of the ticket sits a very different type of candidate. Mark Taylor sent a clear message in his own speech Saturday that his campaign for governor will follow a playbook familiar to Democrats back when they controlled state government: Try to out-tough and out-conservative the Republicans.

While Taylor touted his "PeachKids" plan to provide health insurance for every child in Georgia, he also thundered against taxes. "The Big Guy," he said of himself, "likes big tax cuts." He hyped his role in passing Georgia's "two-strikes-and-you're-out" law, which targets violent offenders.

And he went after illegal immigrants, who have become a favorite punching bag for the state's politicians. After signing a bill to crack down on illegal immigrants last spring, Gov. Sonny Perdue two weeks ago unveiled a new program to crack down on them further. Not to be outdone, Taylor took another swing Saturday: "Who made Georgia the No. 1 state for illegal immigrants?"

"Sonny did!" the crowd screamed, to which Taylor flashed a Big Guy grin.

Particularly by trouncing Cathy Cox in the July primary, Taylor proved that when it comes to campaigning, he'll show up to fight. So far, however, he remains well behind Perdue by any measure. Perdue stretched his lead last week to 13 points in one independent poll and 17 points in another. And he's expected to lag even further in fund-raising when campaign contributions are reported again Sept. 30. Meanwhile, Democratic unity continues to be hampered by icy relations between Cox's people and Taylor's: She didn't even show up for the convention.

That leaves the No. 2 guy on the ticket with a difficult challenge. Jim Martin, the nominee for lieutenant governor, is a former legislator and state human resources commissioner from Atlanta. He's a Presbyterian church elder and Vietnam veteran with a formidable legislative record -- that rare progressive whom even Republicans have a hard time saying bad things about. On Saturday, he kept his focus on "faith, family and patriotism" and tossed a compelling cheer line to the partisan crowd: "No Republican is going to take these values away from me!"

It was a solid speech. But Martin must run in the shadow of a gubernatorial contest that seems week-by-week to be falling further from Taylor's grasp. While down-ticket Democrats may benefit from national voter dissatisfaction with Republicans, the Big Guy isn't likely to help them much unless he finds some way to shake up the race's dynamics.

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