Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Georgia Senate: One Race Where Endorsements Didn’t Matter

By Nathan L. Gonzales

It was a dark primary night last Tuesday for one Georgia Democrat. Thirty-six-year-old Atlanta businessman Rand Knight, who corralled a series of high-profile endorsements, pulled an astounding 5 percent of the vote in last week’s Senate Democratic primary.

But the night was just as grim for some leading labor unions.

Knight was endorsed by the National Education Association, the Georgia Association of Educators, the Georgia AFL-CIO, and at least 25 other local unions. Teachers and organized labor are often considered two of the most critical endorsements in a Democratic primary, but they didn’t get Knight anywhere.

In this case, the candidate may be to blame.

“Rand was a young man who had the passion and the agenda,” Georgia AFL-CIO President Richard Ray said about the first-time candidate. “But he was never able to raise any money.” Knight raised just $228,000, including $78,000 of his own money, through the June 25 pre-primary reporting period.

But he spent the money on paid staff and phone banking and didn’t air any television ads or send out any mailings. Knight’s strategy propelled him to a distant fourth place (out of five candidates), about 140,000 votes shy of the runoff.

Knight received only 5,500 more votes than Vietnam veteran/former Capitol Hill staffer/aspiring screen writer Josh Lanier, who did not accept individual contributions over $100 (he only raised $430 total) and spent less than $13,000 total after he put in some personal money.

Instead of spending his precious time raising money, Knight spent more than a year effectively courting the state’s labor leaders.

“Nobody outworked Rand Knight [with labor leaders],” Ray said. After the primary, the Georgia AFL-CIO immediately endorsed former state Rep. Jim Martin (D) in the Aug. 5 runoff against DeKalb County CEO Vernon Jones (D).

Knight’s candidacy is a good reminder that sometimes endorsements don’t matter all that much, and that money and campaigns matter, too.

This item first appeared on on July 21, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.