Politics & Government

Bibb GOP leaders say primary election unusual

What does it say when a political candidate who spent almost no money on his campaign is now the Republican nominee for the city's most important office?

David Cousino spent a fraction of the time and money that his primary opponent, Arlan Gibson, did. Yet Cousino is on the November mayoral ballot in Macon.

But as surprising as that may have been to local Republicans, the fact that Gibson and Cousino combined didn't garner as many votes as the lowest-polling Democrat seeking to become mayor may be indicative of a bigger problem for the city's Republicans. Robert Reichert won the Democratic race in a landslide, earning nearly 10,000 votes.

Bibb County's Republican leaders say this mayoral election was unusual for a couple of reasons. For one thing, they said, a lot of traditional Republican voters crossed over to vote in the Democratic primary. For another, voters may have thought that no Republican stood a chance in the general election, so they voted for the Democratic mayoral candidate of their choice.

"There was a lot of crossover vote," said Debbie Varnadore, first vice chairwoman of the Bibb County Republican Party. "We've got a strong base in Macon and Bibb County. But you can't say what they are going to do. When Republicans are needed, they will come out and vote."

Charlie Bishop, chairman of the Bibb County Commission and arguably one of the area's most visible Republican political figures, said partisan politics are a little less significant on the local level than they are in state or national races.

"I think people put aside partisan politics (in local races)," he said. "A lot of Democrats voted for me in the last election. They wanted to vote for the best qualified candidate. I think Robert (Reichert) was able to solidify the voting base, and they chose him based on his qualifications."

Maurice Atkinson, a former Bibb County tax assessor board member who served as Gibson's communications director, said race may have played a factor, especially when there was such a small number of people voting in the Republican primary.

"We thought we had a lot of support from people, but I don't know where they went," he said. "We had doctors, lawyers, business owners. But I think there are enough white bubbas that voted who would not vote for a black man."

In winning every precinct, Reichert was able to appeal to a broad base that seemed to transcend race, gender and socioeconomic class as well as political affiliation.

"I'm delighted people were responsive to our message," Reichert said. "Together, we can bring back progress and prosperity to all of us. The response to that was huge numbers."

So now the Republicans have Cousino as a candidate who even people within the party don't know well. Some of the Republicans interviewed for this story said they have little knowledge of Cousino's plans to help return ancestral land in Middle Georgia back to the Muscogee Creek Nation or other initiatives he is proposing.

"I have to see specifics (about his plans)," said Rinda Wilson, vice president of the Bibb County Republican Women, who attends Macon's Emmanuel Church with Cousino.

"I don't know what his policies are in detail. Voters have got to use common sense. Just because someone is a Republican or a Democrat, you may not always agree with them. ... I'm basically more conservative than I am Republican. Anytime a person veers away from conservative values, I withdraw my support. I'm going to look very closely (at the candidates) now that it's more specific."

Varnadore agreed with that assessment.

"With any candidate, you have things you don't always agree with," she said. "That's why you leave it up to the voters."

Bishop said because of his position, he doesn't want to publicly support any specific candidate. He encouraged voters to look at everything about the candidates involved in the mayor's race.

"Voters have to take into consideration their knowledge of the candidates, their qualifications, their educational backgrounds, their rationale and make sure they pick the best qualified candidate for the job," he said. "I think the voters have the intelligence to make the proper choice."