VALDOSTA -- A day after primary elections brought the November general election picture into clearer focus, Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor (D-Albany) was in town to discuss the future for state Democrats and Georgia in general.

Taylor ran unopposed for his party's nomination, but still doesn't know who he'll face in November. A Sept. 10 runoff will decide who among former Georgia legislators Mike Beatty and Steve Stancil will be the Republican nominee.

Taylor said Wednesday that he doesn't see much difference in either candidate.

"There hasn't been an indication of a difference between Beatty and Stancil. I think they'll run similar campaigns," he said.

Taylor also commented on the impending governor's race between Gov. Roy Barnes and GOP challenger Sonny Perdue.

"I think they both got the race they wanted," he said, noting that Perdue seemed to be the Republican that Barnes most wanted to face. "That was the desired result. Let the fun begin."

"I think Gov. Barnes has a strong campaign going. I think he'll be elected by a large margin in November," he confidently predicted.

Taylor said he was not surprised to see John Linder defeat Bob Barr in a battle of incumbent GOP congressmen forced into competition by the state's new redistricting plan. Neither was Denise Majette's win over previously untouchable incumbent Cynthia McKinney unexpected.

"I think only the margins of victory (were surprising)," he said. "I thought the margins of the votes were a surprise."

Taylor said he thought a strong 13th U.S. Congress Democratic primary would have generated a runoff, though David Scott took the nomination with 54 percent of the vote. Similarly, he expected to see Barbara Dooley garner considerable state party support in her bid for the GOP's 12th U.S. Congress District nomination. She narrowly lost to Max Burns, though a recount is planned.

As for issues in November, Taylor downplayed the impact of 2001's vote to change the Georgia flag on state races.

"Early indications are some really courageous state senators in tough primaries were re-elected," he said. "What you are seeing in some areas around the state are a small group of single-issue voters. I think they'll balance themselves out between those that think the flag shouldn't have changed, and those that think it should have changed. In the middle, you've got 70 percent of Georgians who don't want to revisit that issue. It held true in the election (Tuesday) night, and I think it will hold true in November."

Rather than simply supporting the old flag on its merits, Taylor said Republicans were defaulting to criticizing the process by which the flag was changed, rather than risk alienating African American voters.

That argument is unlikely to sway those not already energized by the flag debate, he said.

"The public in general is not going to be excited or energized by a process argument," he said. "That's why I think the issue will slowly dissipate."

Taylor also backed the Barnes' administration record on education, touting improving fourth grade reading scores, reduced class sizes, improved teacher's pay and new school construction as evidence the state's education system was on the mend.

He also lashed out at state Republican leaders -- party chairman Ralph Reed in particular -- for attempting to pit Atlanta residents against the rest of the state. There is room for both to thrive, Taylor said.

"It was a concentrated effort out of Republican headquarters ... (to say) I'm running because if it is good for Atlanta, it must be bad for us. That is a very divisive political tactic, and it has tremendous ramifications if it ever took hold across this state. I don't think it will take hold. Georgians are proud of their capital city. We are envious, of course, of their economic success. We aspire to see growth in our communities, but I don't sense among the average Georgian a desire to see bad things happen to metro Atlanta."

Taylor also touted the Democratic Party's push to cut taxes across the board, but admitted the move meant the state's bud

get will recover at a slower pace than the rest of the state's economy because of lower revenues. The goal, he said, will be to push job creation and quicker recoveries in other economic sectors.

"That is the only way we'll have flexibility in state government to pursue new spending initiatives," Taylor said.

Finally, Taylor defended the new voting districts recently approved by the U.S. Justice Department and drawn by state Democrats. Republicans howled that the maps unfairly diminished GOP voting power and forced established Republicans into primary battles with each other. Bob Barr and John Linder were forced into the 7th U.S. Congress district, while Jack Kingston and Saxby Chambliss also would have been primary opponents had Chambliss not opted for a Senate race against Max Cleland.

Regardless of party affiliation, Taylor said the GOP redistricting preferences would have cost South Georgia critical representation in both state and national posts.

"If this was left to the GOP, South Georgia would have lost two state senators," he said. "We would have lost at least one congressman south of Macon."

To contact reporter Bill Roberts, please call 244-3400, ext. 245.

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