By David Beasley
ATLANTA (Reuters) - A grandson of former President Jimmy Carter said on Thursday he plans to run for governor of Georgia, an office once held by his grandfather on his path to the White House.
Jason Carter, who serves in the Georgia Senate, will seek the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican Governor Nathan Deal next year in a state that has not had a Democratic governor in 12 years.
Carter said his campaign would focus on ways to improve the state's education system, economy and ethics laws.
The lawyer and former Peace Corps volunteer said he had not discussed whether his grandfather would campaign for him, but thinks the former president's name recognition will help his chances at the polls.
"It will let people know the kind of family that I come from," he said. "Ultimately, they're going to have to judge me on my merits. But I certainly think it gives people a point of reference."
Carter is the second relative of formerly high-profile politicians from Georgia to announce a run for office in 2014. Michelle Nunn, daughter of ex-U.S. Senator Sam Nunn, said earlier this year she would be a candidate for the seat her father once held.
Both Carter and Nunn will face uphill battles in a state that is solidly Republican, said Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia.
Republican Mitt Romney won 53 percent of the Georgia vote in the 2012 presidential election, and Republicans hold a majority in the state legislature.
Carter, 38, has served in the Georgia Senate since 2010. Prior to working as a lawyer at a business litigation firm, he served as a Peace Corps volunteer in South Africa.
NAME A MIXED BLESSING
His lineage could be a two-edged sword, Bullock said.
"For Democrats, it's an inspirational name," he said. "For Republicans, it's just the opposite."
Deal's spokesman, Brian Robinson, declined to comment on Carter's decision.
The first-term governor's latest campaign finance statement shows he had $1.1 million in cash on hand as of June 30, but Robinson said donations have increased since then.
John Barge, the state's school superintendent, and David Pennington, mayor of Dalton, Georgia, are challenging Deal in the Republican primary.
No other Democrats have announced plans to run for governor. National Democrats are lining up to support Carter's campaign, Politico reported.
"If any Democrat can win in Georgia, and we think we can, it's Jason Carter," said Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association.
(Additional reporting and writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Scott Malone, Alden Bentley, John Wallace and Andre Grenon)