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    Endorsements fall on voters' deaf ears

    BY NANCY BADERTSCHER, JIM THARPE
    08/12/2004
    by NANCY BADERTSCHER, JIM THARPE on 8/12/04.

    History has some morning-after advice for politicians who can't resist making endorsements in primary elections: Don't do it.

    Just ask Gov. Sonny Perdue, who stood in front of the state Capitol a week ago and declared, "Wayne Hill is the right leader for the future of Gwinnett County." Or former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who endorsed GOP congressional candidates Dylan Glenn and Robert Lamutt.
    KIMBERLY SMITH/AJC
    (ENLARGE)
    Gov. Sonny Perdue (left) made a surprising and well publicized endorsement last week of Gwinnett County Commission Chairman Wayne Hill. The three-term incumbent lost.

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    Hill, Glenn and Lamutt all went down to defeat in Tuesday's runoffs.

    "Endorsements by other politicians don't seem to help," said Alan Abramowitz, an Emory University political scientist. "They may not hurt, but I think most people just discount them. When they see one politician endorsing another, they assume they are doing it for some self-interested reason."

    Abramowitz said endorsement fiascos go back to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who in the 1930s endorsed candidates in an attempt to defeat conservative Democrats opposing his New Deal.

    "It didn't work then, and it's rarely worked since then," Abramowitz said. "That's why you don't see too many governors or presidents doing things like that."

    Bryan Ford, a Dunwoody Republican, said he considers endorsements, but gives more weight to other factors.

    "I look at the candidate's viewpoint, their voting record and how their voting record relates to the issues at hand," said Ford, 41, a manager with BellSouth Long Distance.

    Perdue and Gingrich were not alone when it came to picking the wrong political ponies. Former U.S. housing secretary Jack Kemp and former U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.) campaigned for Glenn, who was defeated by state Rep. Lynn Westmoreland for the 8th District congressional seat.

    In the Democratic U.S. Senate race, former President Jimmy Carter encouraged Cliff Oxford to run but never formally endorsed him. Oxford was beaten Tuesday by U.S. Rep. Denise Majette.

    Former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr and Cobb County Commission Chairman Sam Olens, among others, endorsed Lamutt, who lost to state Sen. Tom Price in the 6th District.

    Democrats are savoring the list of losing candidates who were either endorsed or helped by Perdue.

    "Saying Gov. Perdue lacks coattails isn't quite accurate," said Bobby Kahn, chairman of the state Democratic Party. "He has them, but they seem to get wrapped around the necks of those he supports."

    The list includes Hill, whom Perdue endorsed, and Glenn, who touted his work in Perdue's administration as well as President Bush's. In the primary, Perdue made recorded calls on behalf of Grant Brantley, who lost a bid for the state Supreme Court.

    State Rep. Charles Bannister (R-Lilburn), who defeated Hill, said the governor's news conference showcased several Gwinnett developers standing behind Perdue and Hill. That, he said, might have put off voters who feel the county is growing too fast.

    Perdue said Wednesday he had no regrets. Marty Klein, spokesman for the Georgia Republican Party, said the governor made his biggest investment this year in the primary candidacy of Senate Majority Leader Bill Stephens (R-Canton), who defeated challenger Bubba McDonald.

    "There were plenty of candidates who used the governor's name who did real well," Klein said. "The governor is the head of the Republican Party, and the Republican Party is stronger than ever."

    Perdue also endorsed two state House candidates who won their primary races — Gene Maddox of Cairo and Rep. Austin Scott (R-Tifton), Klein said.

    But the governor made fund-raising calls for incumbent state Sen. Joey Brush (R-Appling), who lost his primary.

    "The governor is learning what a lot of us learned in prior Republican runoffs," said Matt Towery, an Atlanta political analyst and former GOP legislator. "It's always best not to make endorsements."

    — Staff writers Rhonda Cook and James Salzer contributed to this article.