A University of Georgia political scientist said the race for governor in 2010 will come with a price tag of eight figures, a likely reason Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle is beginning his exploratory campaign more than two years before the vote. Hes lining up a date for the prom, said Charles Bullock, a UGA professor who analyzes state politics. Bullock said Cagle, a Hall County resident, is making sure that potential supporters dont commit to another candidate, such as Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, the only other Republican in the race. Bullock said the 2010 Republican primary could be contentious as the first open election since 2002, when Sonny Perdue became the first Republican governor since Reconstruction. This is the first open seat where the Republicans have had the inside track, Bullock said. In 2002, everybody saw that as a major upset. He predicts a smaller field in 2010 for the same reasons on the Democratic side. Bullock said Cagles entry into the race for governor is not unexpected. When you look back across the history of the office of lieutenant governor, which is only about 60 years, all but one or two of them have run for governor, Bullock said. One can almost make the projection on the night they won as lieutenant governor that at some point theyll become a candidate for governor. Bullock said it is not critical for Cagle to emerge as a leading player on the budget during the upcoming session, when the legislature is expected to whittle a budget shortfall estimated at $1.6 billion for the current year. If he does, it certainly helps him. If he doesnt, the job of the lieutenant governor is not to shape the budget. Thats the governors responsibility, he said. State Sen. Eugene Chip Pearson, R-Dawsonville, is one of Cagles closest friends and was chairman of his 2006 campaign for lieutenant governor. He gives Cagle high marks after nearly two years on the job and will support him if he runs for governor. Im already with him whether he runs or he doesnt run, Pearson said. Weve got a long-standing relationship as friends first. He said Cagle is the kind of friend that he could go to on any matter at any time. The thing that is so good about Casey is that he respects everybody, Pearson said. Hes as comfortable on a construction site as he is in a bank board room. He doesnt change who he is for a particular situation. Pearson said he would be a part of Cagles inner circle for the exploratory campaign as a honorary chairman. State Sen. George Hooks, D-Americus, is the longest serving member of the state Senate and is referred to as the dean of the Senate. He, too, gives Cagle high marks for his role as lieutenant governor. Ive known Casey since he arrived in the Senate, and he works well with people, Hooks said. Hes an inclusive person who has a good heart. Hes calmed the waters in the Senate, and the Senate has performed well under him. Oxendine on Wednesday had glowing words about Cagle entering the race. I welcome my friend Casey Cagle to the campaign as he moves forward with his exploratory committee, said Oxendine in a statement released by his campaign. Together, Casey and I have worked for many years to build the party we both love. Additionally, we have worked to the best of our abilities to be of service to our fellow Georgians in our current jobs. Oxendine pledged not to use negative personal attacks in the primary. In 2005, Oxendine entered the race for lieutenant governor, but changed his mind and sought a fourth term as insurance commissioner. Only one Democrat, David Poythress, former commander of the Georgia National Guard, has announced his bid for governor.