Twenty months before Georgia's next general election, gubernatorial hopefuls are ducking questions about their potential candidacies while quietly putting together their campaign strategies behind the scenes..
The hopefuls range from veteran political insiders to newcomers who are exploring their chances of becoming future favorites of their respective parties.
Gov. Nathan Deal isn't among them because he's wrapping up his second consecutive term and can't seek re-election. That creates a vacuum at the top of the state's political structure and a heightened interest in it.
In the Republican field, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle downplays his potential candidacy, especially during the on-going 2017 General Assembly session. As lieutenant governor, Cagle presides over the Senate when it's in session.
Like Deal, Cagle is from Gainesville. He was elected to the Senate in 1994. Twelve years later, he won the lieutenant governor's office and has won re-election twice. In the political arena, the smart money says Cagle's running for governor next year.
Smart money also says Secretary of State Brian Kemp plans to abandon his digs on the first floor of the state Capitol in hopes of moving in the governor's office on the second floor.
Kemp, a Republican, is from Athens. Like Cagle, Kemp has a statewide constituency, having won the Secretary of State's office in the last two general elections. Kemp hasn't announced his gubernatorial candidacy. But a Kemp confidant and campaign official said he's running and will make an announcement soon.
Two former Republican members of Georgia's congressional delegation are mentioned as possible gubernatorial candidates. They are Jack Kingston and Lynn Westmoreland.
Kingston of Savannah held Georgia's 1st District congressional seat for 22 years. He didn't seek re-election in 2014, opting to run for the U.S.Senate seat being vacated by former Sen. Saxby Chambliss. Kingston lost the race Sen. David Perdue.
Westmoreland of Cowetta County held Georgia's 3rd District congressional seat for 12 years. He didn't seek re-election last year. But he recently acknowledged that he's considering a gubernatorial run next year, depending on how well he's received while touring the state.
Others mention as possible GOP gubernatorial candidates include House Speaker David Ralston of Blue Ridge and state senators Burt Jones of Jackson and Michael Williams of Cumming. Sen. Josh McKoon of Columbus is also mentioned as a possibility.
On the Democratic side, party leaders name House Minority Leader Stacy Abrams of Atlanta as a strong contender for their party"s gubernatorial nod. They also name Jason Carter as a possibility. Carter, a former state senator, was the party's 2014 nominee. He's a grandson of former President Jimmy Carter.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed's name gets dropped often when Democrats discuss potential gubernatorial candidates. He's a two-term Atlanta mayor and he's well liked in national Democratic circles. Reed has said he'll launch another political campaign. But it's unlikely the 2018 gubernatorial race will be it.
Former acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates worked as a federal prosecutor in Atlanta before former President Barack Obama made her deputy attorney general in 2015. She was serving as acting attorney general in January when President Trump fired her because she refused to enforce his immigrant policy.
Because of the firing and her work as federal prosecutor in Atlanta, many Democrats think she would make an excellent candidate. But she hasn't embraced or mentioned a possible future in politics.
Other potential Democratic candidates are former 12th District congressman John Barrow of Athens and Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson.
Since Georgia's Libertarian Party gained permanent ballot status two decades ago, it has fielded a candidate in each gubernatorial election. Doug Craig, a sheet-metal worker in Atlanta, has announced he'll seek the Libertarian's nomination next year.
Over the next few months, the candidate field is expected to contract and expand as the qualifying dates move closer.
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