I don't usually make it a point of talking to the political leaders who are subjects of the polls for this column. This is partly because if they are Republicans and I report bad news, they call me a traitor. And if they are Democrats, they argue that I'm biased against them. But for readers of this column, it must now be clear that its main goal is to provide an accurate assessment of public opinion and of the strategies or events that can impact political leaders or public policy.
This week, however, I freely admit to having talked with a man I have known since I was a child. We've known each other as good friends and fierce political adversaries. I think it's fair to say that through those years, I have gained enough understanding of Georgia Democratic Sen. Zell Miller to offer here a clear look at who he is, why he is speaking at the Republican convention, and what he might say.
First, some context for Miller's Wednesday night speech. The man is wildly popular in Georgia, even among Democrats. An InsiderAdvantage survey, taken after it was announced that Miller would be speaking at the GOP convention, found that he remains the state's most popular political leader. We asked:
Q. Do you approve or disapprove of Sen. Zell Miller in the carrying out of his job?
Approve ..................64 percent
Disapprove ...............28 percent
Don't know/No opinion .....8 percent
The survey of 300 respondents was conducted with our research associates, The Marketing Workshop. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 6 percent.
With polling numbers that high, it's fair to say that Miller needn't worry which political party he spends his time with. In Georgia, he is a political party unto himself.
For those who will be hearing Miller for the first time, be ready to be taken aback by his delivery. His Appalachian-Mountain twang and pointed rhetorical style take some getting used to. But after some minutes, he becomes nearly hypnotic. The man has a unique ability to speak from his soul. It's a soul grounded in an upbringing by his strong-willed mother, who built the family's house stone by stone in the northern hill country of Georgia. It was reinforced by a stint in the Marines, and sealed solid by years of public service as his state's lieutenant governor, governor and U.S. senator.
All that aside, why is this Southern political folk hero willing to address the Republican convention, and in the same arena where in 1992 he praised his friend, then-Democratic presidential nominee Bill Clinton?