Young Miscalculates, Loses Georgia Runoff Primary Was Contest of Savvy vs. Lackluster More Than Race. NO `FIRE IN THE BELLY'

Article excerpt

ANDREW YOUNG began his campaign to be the first black governor of Georgia by optimistically courting white voters in conservative, rural counties. But in the closing days of the race, he was working desperately just to hold his core of black support in Atlanta.

It was no surprise then when Mr. Young, once a trusted lieutenant of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., suffered an overwhelming defeat in the Tuesday, Aug. 7, runoff primary. The winner by a 62 to 38 margin: Democratic Lt. Gov. Zell Miller, who is white.

Young hoped to duplicate last November's victory of L. Douglas Wilder (D) of Virginia, the nation's first black governor. But Young's campaign suffered badly - both from political miscalculations, as well as from what some critics call Young's lack of "fire in the belly."

Young also tripped on an issue that had surprising power with both black and white voters: the battle over starting a state-run lottery.

"Young could have done better than he did," says Merle Black, a political scientist at Emory University in Atlanta. He explains:

"A black candidate who is trying to win in a white-dominated state must do two things. One, maximize the black base. Two, appeal to a strong minority of whites. The Young campaign did not do either one."

Claibourne Darden Jr., a longtime Atlanta pollster, says it is obvious that Young had several things against him. He is black, and "that is a liability in every state, and maybe a little more in Georgia."

Just as important, however, was Young's previous post as mayor of Atlanta. If you mention Atlanta to most rural Georgians, they think of "14-lane expressways, ... drug busts and killings, ... and generations of struggle between Atlanta and the rest of the state for money," Mr. Darden says.

Another problem: in the context of white, rural Georgia, Young's politics "are a little to the left of Abby Hoffman, no doubt about it," Darden says.

"In their recent debate, Young admitted he was a liberal. He talked about the homeless, about the state's responsibility to house all its people. He said he can work with liberal Democratic congressmen because he communicates well with them. He wants public money to pay for abortions, and he said so," Darden observes.

"While Wilder (in Virginia) went over to the conservative side (in his campaign), and people bought it, Andy reminds you of (Democratic presidential candidate Michael) Dukakis, admitting he was a liberal. …