ATLANTA -- Andrew Young, hero of the civil rights movement and one of the most successful black politicians in the nation's history, appears to be headed for defeat in his bid to become governor of Georgia for reasons that neither he nor others quite expected.
He is not getting enough support from black voters.
Heading into Tuesday's Democratic runoff with Lt. Gov. Zell Miller, he lags far behind in the polls. Although he needs to capture 25 to 30 percent of the white vote to win, Young was forced to spend much of the three-week runoff campaign back home in Atlanta, where he was mayor for eight years, shoring up black support.
As he campaigned the final weekend, Young seemed almost resigned to the likely outcome. He launched a late attack on Miller, accusing him of enriching himself while in office, but the assault seemed half-hearted.
Already Young is fielding queries from local reporters about what he will do should he lose Tuesday's election.
"I will have a very comfortable and prosperous sabbatical doing what I want to do," he said Friday at a small gathering of business people and campaign supporters.
Young finished a poor second in a crowded field in the July 17 Democratic primary. He ran well with rural blacks, but Miller siphoned off 20 percent of Young's base of black voters in Atlanta. The rule in Atlanta politics is that to win, a black candidate must take 95 to 98 percent of the black vote, not the 80 percent that Young won in some areas around Atlanta.
From the beginning of what was always an uphill battle, Young knew that he needed more than black votes to win a statewide campaign, so he invested his energy traveling the backroads of rural Georgia, courting the elusive white vote.
His speeches were dispassionate calls for economic development, and his television ads featured him chatting with white peanut farmers and small-town white businessmen.
But Young didn't gain much white support. He got 14 percent of the white vote in the primary, barely more than the 13.3 percent of the white vote won by Maynard Jackson, Young's successor as mayor of Atlanta, when he ran for the Senate 22 years ago. Meanwhile, in Atlanta, black voters grumbled that Young had neglected them and their issues.
"The first rule of politics is you don't neglect your base," said one black elected official. "His TV ads were designed not to offend white voters. But they are not arousing black people."
No one in the black community here wants to trample Young. He is still revered as one of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s top lieutenants and respected for his public achievements as the state's first black congressman since Reconstruction, and later President Jimmy Carter's ambassador to the United Nations.
So instead of criticism, there is silence. For example, Jackson, who succeeded Young last January, endorsed a slate of lesser candidates in the primary, but did not make an endorsement in the governor's race.
Jackson, now the region's most powerful and influential black politician, made some of his top aides available to the Young campaign for the runoff. But he has withheld his personal backing.
"As a sitting mayor, I'm subject to the decisions and inclinations of a sitting governor," Jackson explained this week. "I cannot afford to endorse in a primary."
The less than enthusiastic feeling about Young in black Atlanta extends beyond hurt pride about a political snub in a tough campaign. It is rooted more deeply in Young's two terms as mayor, when Young helped Atlanta investors and developers, most of them white, transform the city from a regional capital into an international business hub.
Young may have added gleaming office towers to the city, but many blacks believe their super-salesman mayor did little to combat the social problems that swept through American cities during the 1980s and left poor blacks in Atlanta with a rampant drug crisis, soaring crime and a sizable homeless population on the streets.
"The feeling is his tenure as mayor did not yield benefits for the black or poor community," said Robert Holmes, a political scientist at Clark-Atlanta University. "He is perceived as the big businessman's mayor. He adopted their agenda."
There is also lingering resentment over Young's refusal to endorse Jesse L. Jackson in the 1988 presidential campaign. There are also some hard feelings over his refusal last summer to endorse his successor even after Jackson's major opponent withdrew from the race.
Young's long-shot bid to become the first elected black governor of a Deep South state has not been made any easier by the virtually flawless campaign of his runoff opponent. Miller, a former history professor, has played to his country roots in north Georgia with just enough hokum to soften up his reputation as a contentious legislative insider continuously battling the speaker of the House.
Miller, who outspent Young 2 to 1, also staked out a simple issue that has overwhelmed all others in the campaign -- Georgia's thirst for a state lottery. Miller wants to use a state lottery to finance education reforms. One of his primary opponents criticized it as bad tax policy. Young cautioned that a governor owes Georgians more than "a million to one chance to succeed."
But opinion polls show Georgians crave the chance to play a state lottery. Blacks and whites were lured into Miller's camp by his promises to champion a chance to gamble.
After the primary, Young hoped to neutralize the issue with a TV spot pointing out that both he and Miller support Georgians' right to vote on the matter. But he is regarded as a reluctant latecomer to the issue.
Young, on the other hand, has failed to find a compelling message. His pitch for jobs, economic growth and education is sensible, but passionless -- and besides, Miller says he is for all those things, too.
Finally, there is the style of Young the candidate. He has doggedly traveled the state in search of votes, but everywhere he goes a certain reluctance is in evidence. It is noted in newspaper features and cocktail party conversations and usually it is attributed to Young's laid-back, philosophical approach to life. It has not helped.
"Voters want to see the fire in the belly," said another prominent black elected official who has watched the campaign from the sidelines. "I'm not so sure he ever had the fire."