January 15, 2014

Mark Millican: Can Pennington prevail? Jimmy Carter did!

Mark Millican

— Supporters of David Pennington for Governor who might blanch and turn ashen at that headline comparing him to a prominent national Democrat should reconsider how colorful their candidate can be. To wit, weigh the Dalton mayor’s comments at a recent political gathering in Ellijay.

“One thing about a Democrat to me — and I respect their opinions, I respect their stance — (is) they tell me what they are,” he said. “I know what they are, they’re a rattlesnake. But they warn me. Those rattles are shaking (saying), ‘Stay away from us, we’re going to bite you!’

“Now we’ve got a lot of conservative Republicans in this state — they’re like coral snakes. They’re pretty. (We) pick ’em up, put ’em in our pocket, and then they’re gnawing away on our pants leg and we don’t even know it. Before we know it, they’ve killed us ... they’re telling us one thing, and doing another.”

Guffawing from the crowd aside, Pennington can be an interesting and engaging speaker. And he seems to be getting better. At a recent evening meeting of the Republican Party of Gilmer County where I last heard him — and I was not crazy about being there after an 11-hour deadline day at the office, same as I would have been at a Democratic Party meeting — he drew me in with his sensible campaign message.

But therein lies the rub.

An aide handed out small placards announcing Pennington’s “5 Way Test for Republicans” — limited government, less spending, lower taxes, fewer regulations and open and transparent government — and he expounded on each one. And as Pennington aptly stated, some state and federal GOPers are unwilling to sign onto his “test” when it actually comes time to vote, hence the name RINOs — Republicans In Name Only.

Pennington is well aware there is wide disenchantment with politicians in both parties, and can tap into that in his message. Why else would he attack legislators in his own party — realizing media will publish his comments — and know one day he may have to work with them?

But the real question is can he win the Republican primary. Most pundits would agree the odds are against him. The Daily Citizen recently ran a headline noting Pennington has raised over $374,000 in his first-time gubernatorial run, but days later a statewide report showed Gov. Nathan Deal with more than $7 million raised. How far will the grassroots take you with that disparity, and the governor claiming every new manufacturing plant providing jobs in Georgia came to the state through his efforts?

David versus Goliath, indeed.

Just don’t tell David Pennington even if he loses he’s “getting his name out there” for 2018 when Deal can’t run again. His campaign is about now, and he and his aides tell us his candidacy is enthusiastically received everywhere in the state he appears, although one aide admitted those are primarily tea party and Republican Party meetings at this point.

After all, Jimmy Carter came out of nowhere in 1976 to defeat Gerald Ford. True, Ford took a hit by pardoning Nixon. But Carter was also refreshing and inspiring then. Will Deal’s ethics problems — which may not come to a head before the primary — prove to be his Waterloo, er, Watergate?

We shall see. I’d love to see Pennington, Deal and the other GOP candidate, state school Superintendent John Barge, in a debate. Would Deal agree to that? We shall see.