Young Miscalculates, Loses Georgia Runoff

Primary was contest of savvy vs. lackluster more than race. NO `FIRE IN THE BELLY'

ANDREW YOUNG began his campaign to be the first black governor of Georgia by optimistically courting white voters in conservative, rural counties. But in the closing days of the race, he was working desperately just to hold his core of black support in Atlanta. It was no surprise then when Mr. Young, once a trusted lieutenant of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., suffered an overwhelming defeat in the Tuesday, Aug. 7, runoff primary. The winner by a 62 to 38 margin: Democratic Lt. Gov. Zell Miller, who is white.

Young hoped to duplicate last November's victory of L. Douglas Wilder (D) of Virginia, the nation's first black governor. But Young's campaign suffered badly - both from political miscalculations, as well as from what some critics call Young's lack of ``fire in the belly.''

Young also tripped on an issue that had surprising power with both black and white voters: the battle over starting a state-run lottery.

``Young could have done better than he did,'' says Merle Black, a political scientist at Emory University in Atlanta. He explains:

``A black candidate who is trying to win in a white-dominated state must do two things. One, maximize the black base. Two, appeal to a strong minority of whites. The Young campaign did not do either one.''

Claibourne Darden Jr., a longtime Atlanta pollster, says it is obvious that Young had several things against him. He is black, and ``that is a liability in every state, and maybe a little more in Georgia.''

Just as important, however, was Young's previous post as mayor of Atlanta. If you mention Atlanta to most rural Georgians, they think of ``14-lane expressways, ... drug busts and killings, ... and generations of struggle between Atlanta and the rest of the state for money,'' Mr. Darden says.

Another problem: in the context of white, rural Georgia, Young's politics ``are a little to the left of Abby Hoffman, no doubt about it,'' Darden says.

``In their recent debate, Young admitted he was a liberal. He talked about the homeless, about the state's responsibility to house all its people. He said he can work with liberal Democratic congressmen because he communicates well with them. He wants public money to pay for abortions, and he said so,'' Darden observes.

``While Wilder [in Virginia] went over to the conservative side [in his campaign], and people bought it, Andy reminds you of [Democratic presidential candidate Michael] Dukakis, admitting he was a liberal.''

Asked what defeated his candidate, Young's campaign manager, Hobby Stripling, first mentions the lottery. Mr. Miller enthusiastically pushed the lottery as a top priority to help Georgia education. Young seemed to waffle.

``I was surprised it was so big,'' Mr. Stripling admits. ``We knew there were a lot of people who would like to have an opportunity to vote on it,'' but the appeal of the lottery was unanticipated, he says.

Stripling suggests that the race issue may also have been important. ``I hope it wasn't a big factor, but I'm afraid it's so.''

But Stripling admits Young never came up with a burning campaign theme.

``He needed a crusade,'' he says. ``We did not keep the campaign at a high emotional level. Jobs, education, crime, and all those things are emotional, but the way Andy delivers them, they are not.''

Though critics speak mostly of Young's mistakes, Professor Black says Miller's strong, well-run campaign was also responsible for the wide margin of victory.

``Young was facing probably the strongest opponent that any black candidate has faced in the South,'' the professor says. ``Miller has been lieutenant governor for 16 years. He raised lots of money. He made his intentions known two years ago. He has accumulated vast experience in state politics.''

That experience shined in the Young-Miller debates. At one point, for example, Young vowed to raise Georgia teacher salaries to the national norm.

``When Miller asked what that would cost, Andy said he did not know,'' Darden says. ``Miller said it would cost $18 million for every 1 percent raise, and Andy said he would get it. He was so sincere, but [did not seem in touch with] reality.''

In the end, Young failed even to draw the kind of near-unanimous support he needed from the blacks, who make up 30 percent of Democratic voters. Some of the state's black leaders, including Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson, refused to endorse him.

Part of that reluctance stems from Young's two terms as mayor, when blacks complained that he snubbed them to help Atlanta's white developers. There also was lingering resentment over Young's refusal to endorse Jesse Jackson for the presidency in 1988.

Now attention turns to the fall campaign, where Miller will face Republican Johnny Isakson. At present, Miller is heavily favored.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Young Miscalculates, Loses Georgia Runoff
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today