Grandpa Jimmy Carter Casts A Shadow Over Ga. Governor's Race : It's All Politics Jason Carter has his eye on the governor's mansion. If he wants to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, former President Jimmy Carter, he has to be careful how he uses that legacy.
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Grandpa Jimmy Carter Casts A Shadow Over Ga. Governor's Race

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Grandpa Jimmy Carter Casts A Shadow Over Ga. Governor's Race

Grandpa Jimmy Carter Casts A Shadow Over Ga. Governor's Race

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

Tomorrow, Jimmy Carter makes an appearance at a church in south Georgia alongside his eldest grandson, Jason. Jason Carter is the politician these days. He's a state senator now making a bid for the governor's office. Democrats haven't won the governor's office in Georgia in 16 years. And Jason is neck-and-neck with the Republican incumbent, Nathan Deal. Jeanne Bonner with Georgia Public Broadcasting reports on how Jason Carter deals with a legacy of his liberal grandfather as he campaigns in his conservative-minded state.

JEANNE BONNER, BYLINE: It was the last day of Georgia's legislative session. And Democratic State Senator Jason Carter was allowed to take the podium as president of the Senate, a ceremonial term for outgoing senators. Republican Senator Charlie Bethel rose with a question for him.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHARLIE BETHEL: While presiding, does this make you President Carter?

(LAUGHTER)

JASON CARTER: Good question. Any other questions?

BONNER: With that one remark, Carter's family legacy moved front-and-center. But in his campaign for governor, the younger Carter must contend with his grandfather's legacy. The name Jimmy Carter stirs up complex feelings among Georgia voters.

BETHEL: I mean, certainly there are people in the electorate who - the only measuring stick they need to make a decision about Jason is Jimmy Carter. And whether that's fair or not, that's reality.

BONNER: Again, Carter's Republican colleague, Charlie Bethel.

BETHEL: I don't doubt that there - the inverse that there are people who say, well, if he's Jimmy Carter's grandson, then he's got my vote and he doesn't have to do anything.

BONNER: At times, Jason Carter downplays his grandfather's role in his campaign.

CARTER: It's a grandfatherly relationship. It's not about politics. It's about, you know - he's teaching me how to clean a catfish.

BONNER: In an interview, the younger Carter is visibly frustrated by questions about his grandfather's influence on voters in this election.

CARTER: They may know I'm Jimmy Carter's grandson, but they're ultimately going to make a decision about me and about my vision for the future of the state.

ALAN ABRAMOWITZ: You know, the truth is that if he wasn't Jimmy Carter's grandson and everything else about his bio was the same, there's no way he would've ended up as the Democratic nominee.

BONNER: That's Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory University. He says the younger Carter still has to contend with voters who don't have good memories of Jimmy.

ABRAMOWITZ: If they're old enough to remember his presidency, there were some pretty, you know, tough times and some negative associations there with the hostage crisis, you know, inflation, rising gas prices.

BONNER: Carter also has to dodge comments from his opponent, Nathan Deal, who suggests Jason is riding his grandfather's famous name.

NATHAN DEAL: We believe a candidate ought to stand on their own record.

BONNER: Jason does publicly wield the tie with his grandfather when it's useful, with key voters like African-Americans who, by and large, liked the elder Carter. Here's 50-year-old DeDe Lawson.

DEDE LAWSON: And now the climate is so us-versus-them kind of mindset, and he was not that. He tried to be fair. So that's why I'm wishing his grandson (laughter) - I'm hoping he can bring that to the table, that sense of fairness.

BONNER: Sandra Bullard is eating at a greasy-spoon diner in Atlanta.

SANDRA BULLARD: I'm not a Jimmy Carter fan. He did some things that were really good.

BONNER: As for the grandson...

BULLARD: I'm kind of iffy about Jason.

BONNER: Another voter, Kelly James, shrugs when asked if he sees a connection between Jimmy and Jason.

KELLY JAMES: I was born in '82, so not really.

BONNER: The diner is on Jason's campaign trail. And the candidate soon enters wearing his signature cowboy boots with his sleeves rolled up and no suit jacket.

CARTER: I appreciate you all coming out.

BONNER: The younger Carter talks about the economy and education.

CARTER: But you're cutting back on stuff?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Of course. Of course.

CARTER: Like, I mean - what has that meant? What have you been cutting back on?

BONNER: Indeed, Jason does have magnetism. Even his Republican colleagues admit he works hard and takes the job of legislating seriously. Inside the state Capitol, political writer Tom Crawford points to Jimmy Carter's portrait alongside previous governors. And he notes it's been 34 years since Jimmy Carter left politics.

TOM CRAWFORD: It's an effect that diminishes every year. And it certainly would have something of an impact on the governor's race, but I don't think as much as some people think.

BONNER: Of course, Carter's other big challenge - perhaps more than being Jimmy's grandson - is being a Democrat in a red state. But if he wins, he'll not only buck expectations, he'll outdo his grandfather who failed to win the governorship on his first try. For NPR News, I'm Jeanne Bonner in Atlanta.

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