Joe McCutchen says he’s been spending four hours a day pretty much every day trying to spread the word about Dalton Mayor David Pennington’s campaign for governor.
“I’ve got Pennington bumper stickers on both my cars. I wear a Pennington sticker everywhere I go,” said McCutchen, an Ellijay resident. “We’ve got a bunch of people here who are really fired up. We’ve got people in Dalton who are fired up. I’m getting calls every day from people all over the state who want to join what I call the Pennington Army. I’ve been involved in politics for 50 years and I’ve never seen the enthusiasm, passion and energy that I’ve seen in the Pennington campaign.”
McCutchen said he and other Pennington volunteers are calling friends, talking to people and even writing letters to spread the word about Pennington.
“I’m a third-generation business owner myself, and I’ve known David 30 years. He’s done what he said he’d do in Dalton, cut taxes, cut spending and keep services high,” McCutchen said. “I believe he’ll be elected. I think he’ll be the best governor in the nation, and I think he’ll be the best governor in Georgia history.”
Pennington has said he will challenge incumbent Gov. Nathan Deal in the Republican primary next year. State School Superintendent John Barge has also said he will seek the Republican nomination.
Twelve years ago, Conservatives in Action organized south Georgia for Republican Sonny Perdue’s ultimately successful run for governor.
“We flipped the south from Democrat to Republican,” said Kay Godwin, one of the group’s co-founders. “We went county by county, and that’s what we are going to do for David.”
Godwin, a resident of Blackshear, said the group worked to help get Deal elected in 2010 but is now looking for “some new faces.”
“For the last three years, we have worked to make him (Deal) successful. But on several issues, Common Core being the main one, he is just not on the same page as us,” she said, referring to a set of national education standards that is controversial among many conservative groups.
“This is a federal takeover of education, and Georgia has to pull out of this,” she said.
She said Pennington impressed many of the group’s members when he spoke in south Georgia.
“He got a really great response, so we started calling people up there (Dalton), and we liked what we heard. He has cut taxes. He has cut spending and regulation. He opposes Common Core, so we are going to be working with him,” she said.
Pennington said that’s the sort of grassroots support he’s going to need if he is to unseat Deal.
“The Atlanta media said the Republican Party would line up behind Deal, and the top leadership has,” Pennington said. “But at the grassroots it’s a different story. I was recently speaking to a group of Republican women (in Oconee County). At the end of my presentation, we passed around a sheet for people to sign up to help me. Sixteen of the 20 women, Republican activists, signed up. That wasn’t an unusual occurrence, and that’s what has given me the greatest hope.”
Pennington said he isn’t sure exactly how many cities he has been to or groups he has spoken to since announcing his candidacy in July.
“We’ve been to Rome at least three times. We’ve been to Cobb County a half dozen times, maybe more. We’ve been to Carrollton. We’ve been to Newnan. I just got back from Columbus. We’ve been to Waycross twice, Blackshear, Sea Island, St. Simon’s, Brunswick. I’ve been to Athens twice. We’ve been to Dawsonville and Ellijay two or three times. We’ve been to Cumming twice, to Sandy Springs twice. We’ve been to Ringgold, Cartersville, Canton. I know I’m leaving out some places,” he said.
In each place, he speaks to local Republican parties, to tea party groups, to Rotary Clubs and other civic organizations.
“These people generally don’t know me. I think a lot of them think I’m some sort of tea party fanatic, and I think that they might be surprised when I start talking about numbers and statistics. And I think a lot of them are shocked at just how bad some of Georgia’s numbers are,” he said.
Pennington said his major goal right now, besides raising his name recognition, is putting together a grassroots structure in every county in the state.
“These are the people who are going to put up signs, to make phone calls and get out the vote. Right now, I’m happy with where we are,” he said.
Pennington’s campaign took a big step last week when it announced he had hired David Ferguson as his campaign manager. An Alabama native and graduate of the University of Alabama, Ferguson most recently served as executive director of Maryland’s Republican Party. Three years ago, he guided Robert Bentley to an upset win for Alabama’s Republican nomination for governor, defeating several better known and better funded candidates. Bentley was later elected governor.
Ken Ellinger, an associate professor of political science at Dalton State College, said Ferguson’s hire shows how serious Pennington’s campaign is.
“Every candidate says he’s going to campaign to win, to mount a vigorous campaign. But who you hire and who you surround yourself with shows just how serious you are,” Ellinger said. “Bringing on somebody like this shows his (Pennington’s) level of commitment.”
Ellinger said a good indication of just how viable Pennington’s campaign is will come when the candidates are next required to report their campaign contributions, noting, “I think to be taken seriously he needs at least several hundred thousand dollars.”
Candidates for governor aren’t required to file their next campaign contribution reports until the end of the year. Pennington declined to say how much money he has raised so far, but he said he is very comfortable with how his fundraising is going.
“I don’t know the exact amount, quite frankly, but it’s hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he said.