Emotional Thurmond announces run for U.S. Senate

An emotional Michael Thurmond, alluding to his rise from sharecropper’s son to the state Capitol, announced Wednesday that he will seek the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate.

Thurmond, the state’s labor commissioner and one of its most prominent African-American politicians, promised to help end partisan gridlock and restore the middle class if Georgia voters pick him in November over the Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson.

Thurmond announced his uphill run for Isakson’s seat in the rotunda of the state Capitol, speaking in front of a portrait of Georgia founder James Oglethorpe and facing about two dozen reporters.

“The American people are literally crying out for principled, common-sense leadership, but unfortunately many in Washington have turned hyperpartisan, deaf ears to their needs and concerns,” Thurmond said.

Thurmond choked up when he talked about visiting his Oconee County roots when deciding whether to make a Senate bid. He paused for a long moment as his wife, Zola,  patted him on the back and tears welled up in his eyes. Thurmond lived in a house without indoor plumbing until he was in his teens.

He described his rise from poverty as a living testament to the American dream.

“Through faith and hard work all things are possible,” Thurmond said.

Thurmond was expected to run for lieutenant governor, but he was under pressure from Democratic Party officials to get into the Senate race.

“I talked to people in Washington, but they did not recruit me,” Thurmond said.

It will be difficult to beat Isakson, a popular Republican in a Republican-dominated  state. But Democrats hope Thurmond’s name at the top of the November ticket will be a huge draw for African-American voters, who make up about half of the Democratic electorate in Georgia. If black voters turn out in large numbers, it could be a huge benefit to other Democrats running for office.

Isakson said Wednesday that he is organized in all 159 Georgia counties and is prepared to aggressively campaign for a second term.

“Georgians will get to choose whether they want someone who represents their conservative values or someone who will push the Obama-Reid-Pelosi agenda of government health care, cap and trade taxes, skyrocketing debt, auto bailouts, government takeover of student loans, jobless stimulus packages, terrorist trials in U.S. courts and forced unionization of private-sector employees by repealing their secret ballot," Isakson said in a written statement.

Isakson, who has been campaigning for more than a year, has raised nearly $7 million for his re-election and expects to have about $5 million in cash on hand at the end of April.