ELECTION 2002; GOVERNOR Perdue Attacks Barnes' Ads Challenger Says He Benefits More

Article excerpt

Byline: Doug Gross, Times-Union staff writer

ATLANTA -- For the past year, the huge pile of cash in Gov. Roy Barnes' re-election account has been the 800-pound gorilla of Georgia politics.

With more than $11 million in the bank, the thinking goes, a campaign can pretty much do whatever it wants.

Now, with about a month to go before Election Day, voters are starting to see the effects of the governor's aggressive fund-raising efforts.

Television stations across the state are being blanketed with expensive ads touting the governor's record and, more recently, slamming the record of his opponent, Republican Sonny Perdue.

Perdue calls the commercials overkill and says voters will be sick of watching Barnes by the time they go to the polls.

But the governor's staffers say having enough money to take the airwaves at will lets them get out a positive message to voters and still respond to any attacks Perdue may launch later in the campaign.

"It enables us to communicate to a broad range of people and enables us to stay on the offensive and guard our flanks at the same time," said Tim Phillips, Barnes' campaign manager. "In effect, we can fight 2 1/2 wars at the same time."

However, some well-funded candidates have lost. Multimillionaire Republican Guy Millner, for example, pumped his own money into three straight statewide campaigns for either governor or the U.S. Senate. He never won.

But Phillips said Barnes' four years as an activist governor, tackling issues from education reform to tax cuts, is the difference.

"It needs to be said that money isn't everything," Phillips said. "You've got to have a record and a message that resonates with people."

But Perdue says Barnes hasn't succeeded on that front. He says that despite Barnes' advertising blitz, recent polls still show the incumbent governor with less than 50 percent support among voters. …