Opinion: No, David Ralston won't run for Senate

A look at why Speaker Ralston is unlikely to challenge Sen. Warnock

Lately, folks in Georgia politics have been chatting about House Speaker David Ralston (R) weighing a challenge to U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock (D). Ralston, a Republican from Blue Ridge, has served as the state’s most powerful lawmaker since 2010, and his career in Georgia politics goes back several decades. So on paper, he does seem like an ideal candidate to run against the freshman Senator. Not so fast.

Last month, Ralston made a trip to Washington to meet with top Republican congressional leaders. He also met with Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), who leads the Senate Republican campaign committee, to talk about Georgia’s upcoming U.S. Senate race. The meeting immediately prompted chatter that Ralston was considering a run himself.

There are several reasons why I think a Ralston Senate run is unlikely. But for the sake of time, let’s just look at the top three reasons.


Charisma

Those who follow Georgia politics closely know that Ralston often has an interesting way with words. Case in point: during last year’s Senate race, he raised eyebrows when he said that former Sen. Kelly Loeffler “married well.” His comments drew backlash from several of Loeffler’s allies, including some of her then-colleagues, who viewed his remarks as sexist.

Ralston is also not a very exciting speaker (no pun intended). For example, here’s a video of him presiding over anti-abortion legislation in 2019. As you can see, he’s not the type of politician/candidate that would bring a crowd to their feet at a campaign rally. He would have to spend a great deal of time fixing this before launching a statewide campaign.

Both Democratic and Republican operatives can agree that charisma is an area where Sen. Warnock excels. Being the pastor of a prominent church requires great public speaking skills and the ability to connect with people, as Warnock has successfully demonstrated. Speaker Ralston, on the other hand, is not as visible on television or on the campaign trail. If you were to show someone a picture of Speaker Ralston, in all likelihood they wouldn’t be able to name him. 17 months may seem like an eternity, but he wouldn’t have much time to develop an image between now and next November.


Divided government(?)

There is a non-zero percent chance that Speaker Ralston could find himself dealing with divided government in a a few years. What do I mean by that?

There is no question that Republicans are going to maintain a strong grip on the state legislature for the foreseeable future. But it’s not out of the question that Ralston could find himself butting heads with a Democratic Governor when the 2023 legislative session kicks off.

I personally find it hard to believe that Ralston would pass up the chance to be a check on a Democratic Governor, whoever he or she may be. He would be able make the argument that he is single-handily standing in the way of “socialism” and “higher taxes.”

Besides, Ralston has previously said himself that he is happy with his current job, and has even suggested that he is willing to serve as Speaker until he dies. “Some days I think I’m pretty close to it,” he once joked. It’s far from unheard of for a politician to have a change of heart, but I’m skeptical that Ralston is willing to ditch his seemingly secure job as Speaker to launch a statewide campaign in an evenly divided state.


Baggage

When you’re in office as long as Ralston has been, your dirty laundry begins to pile up. And when you’re running statewide in a competitive state, that dirty laundry will be the subject of millions of dollars in negative advertising.

Outside of his legislative duties, Ralston runs a law firm in north Georgia that bears his name. In 2019, local investigations found that Ralston would frequently cite his duties as Speaker as a reason for delaying court cases.

“Blairsville resident Ted Harrison said his neighbor threatened to kill his family during a 2016 backyard barbecue. Harrison called police when the man showed up in his driveway with a gun. Court dates have been delayed in his criminal case at least 10 times because Ralston said he had conflicting legislative duties. Three of those court dates were to revoke the man’s bond because he has since been arrested for other crimes.”

After the allegations were unearthed, a handful of members of Ralston’s own caucus called for his ouster, and some even filed a resolution calling for him to step down. Obviously he was never ousted, but a story like this one will surely be a huge focus of Democratic attack ads — and maybe even ads from his Republican opponents — if he decides to enter the race.


Conclusion

One last reason why I don’t think Ralston will run: Sen. Warnock has attempted to brand himself as a public servant rather than a career politician. Speaker Ralston has served in elected office since the early 1990s, so he is practically the living embodiment of the career politicians that Warnock has criticized.

I have mentioned this before, but the fact that it’s June of an off-year and Republicans have no heavy-hitters challenging Warnock yet does not reflect well on them. After all, both of Georgia’s Senators were Republicans not even a year ago.

And the fact Ralston’s name is even being discussed as a potential candidate is revealing in and of itself. He loves his job as speaker and his caucus has shown no signs of wanting to replace him. Is he really willing to give up such a powerful job that he could practically hold for the rest of his life to have his unfavorable numbers skyrocket because of millions of dollars in attack ads? Color me skeptical.