Morning Line /
Follow The Money in CD 14 (07.28.11)
Big Names and Money Lining Up Behind Doug Collins in D-14 Race
Follow the money.
In Gainesville, it leads to state house Rep. Doug Collins, a leading candidate in the race for the GOP nomination for the newly created Congressional seat in Georgia, CD 14. Collins [pictured below] has made three key hires for his impending campaign that tells the story of where the big money will flow.
First he secured Denise Deal [pictured below, right], Governor Nathan Deal's (R) daughter in-law, as his chief fundraiser. Ms. Deal has burst on the Georgia scene as the most prolific and formidable fundraiser in the state. She is dialed into the biggest donors in the nation, and her Rolodex runs long and deep. Her company, Southern Magnolia Capital, raised millions of dollars for the governor's election campaign in 2010. This is a coup for Collins that cannot be overstated. Denise is the real "Deal." Second, the Gainesville House member engaged Chip Lake as his primary general consultant (GC). Lake ran the successful Congressional campaigns of U.S. House Representatives Tom Price (R-GA/6), Phil Gingrey (R-GA/11) and Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA/3), making him three for three at the Federal campaign level. Lake has personal ties to Brian Robinson, the governor's deputy chief of staff and former Wetmoreland communications director -- who is widely credited with engineering Deal's stunning come from behind GOP primary victory in 2010.
Most recently, Lake served as Westmoreland's chief of staff in his D.C. office. Westmoreland has been the primary author of the evolving D-14 map. Naturally, Deal wants D-14 to be a Hall County based seat, with Gainesville as the political apex of its power base.
If three's a charm, Collins rounds out his campaign team with Brian Miller, grandson of Georgia's legendary Zell Miller, as his campaign manager.
Deal, who is known for his unshakeable and unabashed loyalty, has never sold out a friend or supporter in his life, dating back to his Army Captain career where he saw extensive combat duty in Viet Nam. The governor is expected to support Collins behind the scenes, but aides say their boss will not make a formal endorsement in the contest.
Collins steadfastly stood behind Deal in his darkest gubernatorial campaign moments. Deal's support of Collins has nothing to do with the other candidates in the race and everything to do with loyalty to his freind. It's that simple.
So Collins will start the race with the state's leading fundraiser, a proven GC, a top flight campaign manager and the governor's behind the scenes backing. That makes him the frontrunner.
But the voters, not power players and political consultants decide campaigns.
This is where Collins theoretically runs into trouble.
Any CD-14 map will include all of Forsyth County, which will quickly become the district's lion. It's home to some of the state's most active Tea Partiers with a burgeoning conservative grassroots activist base. Moreover, although both Hall and Forsyth County have an equal number of residents – about 180,000 – Forsyth GOP primary voters historically dwarf Hall county voters (excluding Deal's 2010 race) in turnout by an astounding two to one.
That one factor puts this race in play, regardless of who lines up behind Collins. Other potential candidates expected to make a bid include state senators Jim Butterworth and Butch Miller, radio personality Martha Zoller and former Republican Insurance Commissioner candidate Gerry Purcell, the only candidate from Forsyth County so far.
FEAR THE CASEY?
Persistent rumors have perpetuated the Gold Dome and the Georgia U.S. House delegation that Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle (R) will make a surprise entrance into the race at the final hour -- but only if the CD-14 map has Gainesville as the seat's political epicenter. Cagle [pictured below], from Gainesville, is immensely popular in his home town, as well as Hall County, and insiders believe he could blast through the bunch and capture the nomination in a crowded field.
GOP staffers in Atlanta who are working on the CD-14 map say that Westmoreland was waiting to see what Cagle did before turning his preliminary map over to Georgia's state senators. "If Cagle gets in the race, Westmoreland will likely urge us to put most of Cherokee County into the district, minimizing Hall County's electoral clout and diminishing Cagle's chances for victory," said the high ranking Republican official, who spoke only the condition of anonymity. "Some in the Ga. Congressional delegation believe Cagle could sweep the field if he gets in the race, and they don't want to see that happen. Adding Cherokee to CD-14 negates that."
But the political gamesmanship over the CD-14 map may be moot. Cagle says he is "unequivocally not running" for the seat. His position was reinforced by one of the Lt. Governor's primary supporters and confidants. "Casey is not going to be a candidate for CD-14. He likes his current job, his family is happy -- and that is his top priority," said his ally, who was not authorized to talk to the press on Cagle's behalf.
However, Republican Atlanta political consultant Bernie Tokarz offered a different view. "Things change in politics," Tokarz said. "Cagle wants to be governor, but that is more than six years away. If Cagle decided to run for this seat, and Hall County is it's base, good luck beating him. He's one of the most effective retail politicians in Georgia, never to be underestimated. Just ask Ralph Reed."