"So, is the 10th the priority?"
It was an unexpected question from an unexpected source. Newly hired Democratic Party Executive Director Matt Weyandt had just spent the previous five minutes sitting at a table in Manuel's Tavern providing his background to local activists. It is doubtful he anticipated this whiplash query from a local blogger. It is interesting to note his first reaction was complete honesty.
"I'm really not up to speed yet. I don't officially start the job until Monday", Weyandt replied, but then quickly pirouetted into political operative mode, "But obviously the 10th is a priority and we are very optimistic."
If recently elected Chair Jane Kidd is the face of the Democratic Party of Georgia, Weyandt will be the legs. His charge is to rebuild the infrastructure of a party which despite the national changing of the tides last November was thorougly whitewashed in its own state.
Despite his youth, only 28, Weyandt brings a wealth of political experience to the position. A native Georgian, graduate of Grady High School and Emory University, he cut his teeth on Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin's first campaign then joining her staff after graduating from college. In 2003, Weyandt ventured to California to work the hotly contested San Francisco mayoral race between Democrat Gavin Newsom and Green Party Candidate Matt Gonzalez. In the race, Newsom narrowly defeated Gonzalez only after a rare interceding by the national party in a local race.
Following this defeat and a vacation in Europe, Weyandt returned to Georgia and assisted in building Jim Martin's 2006 campaign for Lieutenant Governor from the ground up. Starting in Martin's basement, Weyandt and others created a state-wide campaign which raised nearly $3 million and despite defeat garnered more votes than top of the ticket candidate Mark Taylor.
Weyandt will be sorely tested straight out of the gate. The first Rubicon to cross for the new regime in the DPG headquarters is the special election on June 19th. Although the party bylaws prevent the state party from endorsing a particular candidate, Democrat James Marlow is perceived to be running a successful insurgent campaign in the overwhelmingly conservative 10th district. DPG Communications Director Martin Matheny indicates canvassing and phone banking shows a surprising interest among likely Democrat voters. Conventional wisdom is if Marlow can force a runoff, national attention will focus squarely on northeast Georgia and then it is "katie bar the door".
Weyandt understands the difficulties he faces in Georgia stating he doesn't think "every Democrat has to have the same beliefs, but they have to be Democrats". But he believes the old party can be resurrected to former glory and optimistically sees an "opportunity for change".