For Ken Hodges, the 2010 Democratic candidate for Georgia attorney general, building a bipartisan coalition of support was the only possible route to victory—and avoiding comparisons to the national Democratic Party was a key step along that route. As the district attorney in Albany, Georgia, he had the advantage of being able to trade on personal relationships in order to marshal support and win endorsements from prominent Republicans—especially Republican district attorneys and county sheriffs.

“I went to meetings, I spoke with them individually and I told them how important it was to have a prosecutor as an attorney general,” says Hodges. “There were some that told me that they couldn’t attach their name to [my candidacy] because they would not be understanding of it in their communities and they didn’t want the headaches associated with it.” Most, however, were happy to lend support to a candidate they had worked with before and knew well over their own party’s nominee, Cobb County 3rd District Commissioner Sam Olens, who they did not know.

While campaigning, Hodges was careful to showcase his experience as an accomplished prosecutor and to tout his real-world experience as qualifications for what is fundamentally a non-partisan job. In the end, he amassed the support of more than 127 Democratic and Republican district attorneys from across Georgia. “I had more Republican support than my [Republican] opponent did,” boasts Hodges.

In the end, though, there was little that any Georgia Democrat could do to overcome the GOP wave, which had its strongest impact below the Mason-Dixon Line. Despite that wave, Hodges received 44 percent of the 2.55 million votes cast for attorney general and performed better than any state-wide Democrat running for office—even Roy Barnes, the Democratic candidate for governor and a former governor himself, who received 43 percent of the vote.

“Every constitutional office in Georgia elected a Republican,” says Hodges. “No Democrats were elected state-wide.”

Future candidates in Hodges’ position would be wise to follow his example and reserve their efforts for those power-brokers most likely to be receptive to their message. Hodges, for instance, was careful to avoid regions where his opponent and the opposition party were well entrenched, specifically Georgia’s staunchly Republican Cobb County.

By speaking directly and frankly to those Republicans he considered targets for conversion, Hodges had a high success rate and was able to tout those endorsements on the campaign trail.

Hodges is convinced that in a normal year his efforts would have led to success in the general election. “If this was two years ago, we would be having a very different conversation,” he says. Indeed, the environment may be less favorable to Republicans in coming cycles, and a bipartisan bridge builder like Hodges may find the Georgia Democratic Party knocking at his door with entreaties to run for offices higher than attorney general.

 

Noah Rothman is the online editor at C&E. Email him at nrothman@campaignsandelections.com