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Jimmy Carter: Help or Hindrance for Grandson's Political Future?

Image: Jimmy Carter: Help or Hindrance for Grandson's Political Future?

By John Gizzi   |   Tuesday, 19 Nov 2013 09:57 AM

Now that Georgia state Sen. Jason James Carter announced he's running for the governorship his grandfather held from 1970-74, some in the Peach State wonder whether the near-certain Democratic nominee is helped or hurt by being the grandson of former President Jimmy Carter.

"Jason may turn to be a super candidate, go on to win, and rebuild the family image," said Bill Shipp, longtime Atlanta Constitution columnist and editor of a much-read newsletter on Georgia politics. "But for now, there are still people here who don't think highly of Jimmy Carter or his presidency. I think the name does hurt him."

Carter, 40, has raised $1.1 million for his campaign kitty, and a new poll commissioned by the Georgia Democratic Party and the Democratic Governors Association shows him Carter trailing Republican Gov. Nathan Deal by a relatively slim margin of 44 percent to 36 percent.

While Carter appears to have wrapped up the nomination, Deal faces a strong primary challenge from Dalton Mayor David Pennington.

"A father or grandfather who was well-known in politics gets someone into the starting block who might not normally be there," political scientist Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institute, author of a book on American political scientists, told Newsmax,

"It has almost surely helped Michelle Nunn [daughter of Georgia's former Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn] pretty much wrap up the Democratic nomination [for senator] next year and I'm sure it has helped Jason Carter get to where he is," Hess said.

But, Hess added, "Whether it is enough to get someone actually elected remains to be seen."

In the case of the Carter family, it seems Jason already has had problems by being the grandson of Jimmy Carter.

During a recent symposium at the Carter Center, the 89-year-old former president voiced regret over his decision to sign into law Georgia's death-penalty statute while governor in 1973.

In citing what he considered racial, economic and geographic disparities in application of the death penalty, he said, "It's hard to imagine a rich white man or woman going to the death chamber after being defended by expensive lawyers."

Asked if he agrees with this view, Jason Carter told reporters: "I love my grandfather, but we disagree on this issue. I believe in the death penalty for heinous crimes and that won't change when I'm governor."

That led veteran Augusta, Ga., public relations man Phil Kent to tell Newsmax,
"While I think there are ways in which Jimmy Carter's financial and political contacts help his grandson, I also think there must be days when Jason wishes granddad would shut up,"

Kent noted that, in a hard-hitting New York Times article entitled "A Cruel and Unusual Record," Jimmy Carter attacked President Barack Obama for his support of drones to take out suspected terrorists.

"At a time when Jason Carter needs to be seen as a centrist Georgia Democrat, Jimmy Carter causes trouble for him by attacking Obama from the left," said Kent.

This is not the first time the elder Carter's words and actions have created difficulties for the oldest of his 11 grandchildren.

In December 2009, Jimmy Carter sent a letter to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency— the news service for Jewish newspapers — offering regret for controversial statements he made about Israel just as Jason was starting his campaign for a state Senate seat from Northeast Atlanta, which has a vocal and influential Jewish population.

"We must not permit criticisms for improvement to stigmatize Israel," wrote Carter. "As I would have noted at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but which is appropriate at any time of the year, I offer an Al Het [a Jewish prayer for forgiveness] for any words or deeds of mine that may have done so.”

At the time, Sam Massell, the only Jewish mayor of Atlanta, discussed the Carter controversy with this reporter.

"My personal philosophy is to accept people at face value when they say 'I'm sorry,'" said Massell. "But I wouldn’t be honest with you if I didn't say that [Carter's] words would have carried more weight in the Jewish community here had it not been for their timing. Rightly or wrongly, they are being related to the political condition of his relative who is seeking office."

However, the doubts about the sincerity of Jimmy Carter's "Al Het" did not stop his grandson from easily winning the state Senate seat.

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.

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