No question that Zell Miller is one of Georgia’s legendary political figures, right next to 20th-century titans like Herman Talmadge, Tom Murphy, Sam Nunn, Richard Russell and Carl Vinson.
I remember some colorful stories and tall tales from a former Miller campaign supporter, Francis Holland, who briefly ran John Russell’s U.S. Senate bid way back in ’86, a campaign on which I worked.
Georgia’s longest-serving lieutenant governor rode a single issue – the Lottery – into the governor’s mansion, and from there, he went to the U.S. Senate. Who can forget his electrifying keynoter at the ’92 Democratic National Convention?
Twelve years later, Miller thrilled members on the other side of the aisle, keynoting the 2004 GOP convention and endorsing George W. Bush for re-election over Democrat John Kerry. To top it all off, the next day he challenged MSNBC’s Chris Matthews to a duel (!)
Miller was also a huge fan of the old Atlanta Crackers baseball team, a subject with which I’m somewhat familiar. I had the privilege of speaking at the Governor’s Mansion to a group he’d assembled to launch a scholarship honoring the team’s all-time most popular player, Ralph Brown, also known as “Country.”
Now, the man known to some as “that damn Zell” is back in the news, endorsing Michelle Nunn last week in her U.S. Senate campaign.
Miller’s endorsement likely won’t mean much to Democrats; they’re going to vote for Nunn regardless. But Nunn is riding Miller’s endorsement for all its worth because she needs disaffected Republicans to abandon David Perdue and come over to her side.
Will it work? Since the GOP Senate runoff, Perdue’s campaign has been relatively quiet. Sure, Georgia GOP honchos held a media confab to show unity the day after Perdue’s win over Jack Kingston defied virtually every poll that was out there. Outside of that, he’s run a low-key campaign everywhere but on TV where, right now, he believes it matters most.
Nunn, meanwhile, has had her share of headlines, good and bad. But right now, she’s dominating the news cycle, the only drawback being is that she might be peaking too soon. It’s still a long way to November.
The big question is how much pull Miller still has among modern Georgia Republicans who may not recall his contrarian streak. And for those who need a little refresher, here’s a small one –