Jimmy Carter's Grandson Dodges DC on Path to Georgia Governor's Mansion

PHOTO: Former president Jimmy Carter, center, and his wife Rosalyn, right, and their grand son Jason are tree planting during their participating in the day service with the Georgia Delegation at Bicentennial Park in Aurora on August 27, 2008.Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post via Getty Images
Former president Jimmy Carter, center, and his wife Rosalyn, right, and their grand son Jason are tree planting during their participating in the day service with the Georgia Delegation at Bicentennial Park in Aurora on August 27, 2008.

When you see the words "Jimmy Carter's grandson" these days, it's probably best to check which one.

In this case, it's Jason Carter, 38, grandson of former President Jimmy Carter, and the newly minted Democratic candidate for Governor of Georgia.

There's also James Carter IV, who rose to prominence last year for unearthing the now-infamous "47 percent" video of the Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney. That became a turning point in the 2008 presidential race.

Blood is blood, but Jason Carter isn't eager to praise the bit of political opposition research that helped to sink the Romney campaign. This is, after all, Georgia -- a place once regarded as the heart of the south -- and is now very much a red state.

"James is my cousin. I love him. He's a lot more partisan than me," Carter told ABC News in an interview Thursday. "Two of my best friends are Republicans."

Later Thursday on MSNBC, he voiced a similar line about the former president: "He's my grandfather, I love him. We don't agree on everything."

Asked by ABC News whether his grandfather has offered any advice, Carter hesitated. "I mean, he gives me … yes," he offered reluctantly.

Pressed for more details, he added: "The advice he's given me is if you work as hard as you can, if you always tell the truth, you'll be fine."

Carter has learned his talking points well.

The furor over the Affordable Care Act website's botched rollout and dropped plans has consumed Washington, but he cautiously keeps his distance.

"Anybody who looks at the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare or whatever you want to call it, has to recognize that it's a mess," Carter said.

"Again, Obamacare right now is a mess, no doubt about it," he said a second time.

"It's a mess. We have to do something," the third time, for emphasis.

Right now, it's hard out there for a red state Democrat, especially if they're trying to unseat a Republican incumbent, and even more so now that the Affordable Care Act's disastrous rollout has created more headaches than they'd like to count.

With Carter's announcement last week that he'd seek a promotion from the Georgia State Senate to the governor's mansion, he joins a cadre of political legacies seeking to tap into the instant name recognition afforded to them by their parents or grandparents in 2014 elections.

It also helps that his path is nearly identically to one blazed by his grandfather, who also ran for governor from the state senate. He happened to also become president, but no one's keeping score.

Carter is young, but he's regarded as a skillful politician with a bright future ahead, recruited by national party officials as their best chance to take back a now red state.

A few weeks ago, the path to victory for him and others like him would have been seemingly blazed by the government shutdown, which temporarily left national Republicans dazed by the flack.

The message for him was, and to some extent is still is, about tying Gov. Nathan Deal to a larger ideological stubbornness of the national Republican Party.

But given the troubles of Carter's own political party, he'll be spending as much time making sure he doesn't get mired in Washington Democrats' health care mess.

"I think that people over estimate how partisan people are. This is not a Republican state, it's a conservative state. But ten years ago there were Democrats elected all over the place," Carter said. "And the people of Georgia are independent minded and want to see solutions to their problems and right now they're not getting that."

Democrats in Georgia want the state to expand Medicaid, an optional provision in the Affordable Care Act to which Gov. Deal has said thanks but no thanks.

Carter takes a slightly different tack. He wants to "get Georgia tax dollars back" so that heaven forbid that money doesn't go to a state like New Jersey, but a wholesale acceptance of the Medicaid expansion isn't the way to do it.

"Medicaid expansion itself is sort of a limited idea and I don't think that we should be limited to that because other states have found creative solutions to get those tax dollars back," Carter said. "I'm looking for good answers. I have seen them in places like Arkansas."

Arkansas, a state with its own Democratic governor (something of a unicorn these days), struck a deal with the federal government to provide private insurance through the marketplaces to some 200,000 Arkansans who qualify for Medicaid, rather than enrolling them in the federal system.

The tricky politics of navigating his allegiance to Democratic policy aside, Carter is unabashed about drawing upon one well dug for him by his grandfather's governorship of the state in the 1970s.

Jimmy Carter became one of the first southern governors to openly call an end to racial discrimination in a state torn apart by segregation. Carter later ran for president in 1976 with the support of Martin Luther King Sr.

The task of a modern Democrat in the South is to motivate African-American and Latino voters who helped President Obama gain 47 percent of the vote in Georgia in 2008, while also appealing to white rural and working-class voters.

Carter brings to the challenge his own unique experience: years working in the Peace Corps in post-apartheid South Africa.

"The wounds of apartheid were still so fresh," Carter said. "It was an incredible experience for me as someone whose family has been in the American south since the 1600s."

"The lesson is that there are a lot of things that divide people but at the end of the day you know, people really can come together, work together across differences and move forward together," he added.