When Jason Carter, the Democratic nominee for governor in Georgia, stated that he feels a “powerful connection” to Israel, he was clearly trying to distance himself from part of the legacy of his grandfather, former President Jimmy Carter, who is known to be harshly critical of the Jewish state.
As the New York Times outlines, the gubernatorial hopeful is attempting to walk a fine line as he both embraces his famous lineage and separates himself from its more controversial aspects.
The former president’s views on Israel are not the only ones that his grandson takes pains to disavow. Referring to Jimmy Carter’s call to ban the death penalty, his grandson told the NY Times, “I love my grandfather, but we disagree.” And when the elder Carter offered to attend a campaign rally in Albany, Ga., his grandson politely asked him to stay away. “He wanted the people of southwest Georgia to see that he was a man of his own,” the former president said. “He didn’t want the attention to be focused on me.”
Jason Carter’s bid to unseat Gov. Nathan Deal, the Republican incumbent, is something of a test of the strength of the Carter family name in Georgia, a generally Republican state that Democrats hope to turn their way. But it is also a test of the deep bond between the Democratic candidate and his 89-year-old grandfather. The former president – whose one-term tenure was largely regarded as a failure – has been doing everything he can from behind the scenes to help his grandson get elected, from giving advice to fundraising.
The family connection clearly works both ways for the younger Carter. Joyce Gravitt, a 58-year-old medical technician and Georgia resident, enthused about the famous forebear in explaining why she would vote for Jason. “Jimmy Carter was the first president I ever voted for,” she told the Times, “and he was from Georgia.” But Gary Crosby, a 65-year-old tree farmer from Valdosta in southern Georgia, expressed his disfavor. “We don’t need another Carter in the capital of Georgia,” Crosby told the Times. “He’s a good Christian man, but he’s not a good leader.”
Jason Carter was 15 months old, the first Carter grandchild, when Jimmy Carter was elected to the White House in the fall of 1976. Their “special relationship,” as Sarah Carter, Jason’s sister, termed it, has long been obvious within the family. When Jason graduated from Duke University in 1997, he interned at the Carter Center; his grandfather remembers assigning him “very heavy responsibilities,” including monitoring elections in Liberia and among Palestinians in the West Bank.
At the former president’s recommendation, Jason Carter joined the Peace Corps in South Africa, and his grandfather introduced the young man to Nelson Mandela. In 2010, while practicing law in Atlanta, the younger Carter quietly helped coordinate an apology to Jews from his grandfather, who had angered many with his 2006 book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.” “I think his grandfather respects Jason’s judgment,” commented Emmet J. Bondurant, a lawyer close to both men, who advocated for the apology. He said the younger Mr. Carter was the more natural politician, possessing “vastly more people and political skills than his grandfather.”
Though the former president has not openly campaigned for his grandson so far, advisers say he is likely to make appearances in the fall. Political tradition in Georgia dictates that former governors attend their successors’ swearing-ins. The former president, who was once governor of Georgia, and will turn 90 in October, is looking forward to it. “And I’ll stay in the background during the ceremony,” he emphasized, “where I’m supposed to be.”