Ex-governors seek voters’ second look

In 5 states, it’s deja vu all over again

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ATLANTA | In an election year of the angry electorate, former governors in five states are hoping that a deja vu appeal sells better than the anti-establishment pitch.

The candidates - some a little grayer, others a little balder - say they want a second chance after taking a hard look at the seemingly intractable challenges their state was facing and concluding they were the best qualified to take them on. If elected, they would inherit states hemorrhaging jobs and staring down massive budget gaps.

The former governors in California, Georgia, Iowa, Maryland and Oregon are betting that a dose of nostalgia for better economic times, combined with a desire among some voters for a steady, experienced hand, will help them prevail in November.

All but one has already made it through a primary. And polls and political experts say that slightly less than two months from the general election, races in each of the states appear close.

In Georgia, Democrat Roy Barnes has been on the campaign trail hammering home the theme of “no on-the-job training necessary.”

The 62-year-old Mr. Barnes was ousted in 2002 after just one term in part because of anger in rural parts of the state over his push to shrink the Confederate battle symbol on the state’s flag. On the stump, Mr. Barnes argues that Republicans have been leading the state on the road to ruin, focused on frivolous fringe issues - like roadkill and microchip implantation - while the state’s schools have suffered and its roads have grown ever more clogged by traffic.

“I don’t want another line on my resume,” Mr. Barnes told supporters at a recent fundraiser. “History’s going to judge me pretty well the way I am right now.”

The former governor, who’s been earning more than $700 an hour as a lawyer in private practice since leaving office, notes he already “lived in the governor’s mansion, and I don’t really care much for flying in helicopters.”

Mr. Barnes is facing former Rep. Nathan Deal, who served 18 years in Congress and narrowly captured the GOP nomination last month.

“I am running for one reason and one reason only: because this state is headed in the wrong direction,” the Democrat said.

Candidates in other states are delivering a version of Mr. Barnes‘ oft-repeated message.

“I think the next two years - literally, the next two years - are going to determine whether this state falls apart politically and fiscally,” said Democrat John Kitzhaber, who’s running for a third term as governor of Oregon after an eight-year hiatus from elected office. He faces Republican Chris Dudley, a former NBA player who has never held elective office.

Mr. Kitzhaber, a 63-year former emergency-room doctor, boasts about his experience. He is unapologetic for issuing a record number of vetoes and labeling Oregon ungovernable.

“I believe that more today than I did then,” he said.

In California, Jerry Brown - once dubbed “Governor Moonbeam” for proposing that satellites be launched into space - has been playing up his old-school credentials.

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