The Georgia Run-off

By Jim Ellis

Georgia-mapJuly 25, 2018 — Peach State voters went to the polls yesterday, in a place where Republicans will choose a gubernatorial nominee while Democrats pick congressional candidates in Atlanta suburban districts 6 and 7.

Secretary of State Brian Kemp defeated Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle to win the Republican gubernatorial nomination. His landslide victory produced a more dramatic point spread than even the most optimistic poll for Kemp had predicted. In the May 22 Republican statewide primary, Lt. Gov. Cagle placed first in a field of six candidates with 39 percent of the vote. Placing second in the gubernatorial primary was Secretary of State Kemp with 26 percent of the vote. Under Georgia election law, to win a party nomination, a candidate must receive majority support. Because no one in the Republican primary topped 50 percent, the top two finishers advanced to yesterday’s run-off.

Kemp scored a crushing 69.4 – 30.6 percent win over Cagle, even though the latter began the race as the favorite for the nomination and placed first in the primary election. In that electoral contest, Cagle carried 123 of the state’s 159 counties. To best illustrate how far he dropped during the two-month run-off period, Cagle managed to win only two counties last night, Monroe, just north of Macon, and small Stephens County, a northeast Georgia political entity that hugs the South Carolina border.

Pre-election polls suggested that Kemp would win the run-off last night, as the latest publicly released survey research studies found him leading the lieutenant governor in a range between three and 18 points. The latest poll came Monday from the Trafalgar Group (July 21-22; 1,177 likely Georgia Republican run-off voters) and found Kemp topping Cagle 59-41 percent when leaners were included.

Other July data report the following results:
• Opinion Savvy (July 17-18; 466 likely Georgia run-off voters): Kemp, 55-37 percent
• Survey USA (July 15-19; 688 likely Georgia run-off voters): Kemp, 40-34 percent
• University of Georgia (July 5-12; 769 likely Georgia run-off voters): Kemp, 44-41 percent

The race appeared to be breaking in Kemp’s direction for three reasons:

  1. During a telephone call with fourth-place finisher Clay Tippins, Cagle explained why he eventually supported a certain piece of legislation he previously claimed to oppose. When pushed, the lieutenant governor explained he flip-flopped only to avoid future political attacks. He was unaware that Tippins was secretly recording the conversation. When the call became public, Cagle’s support among Republicans began to fall.
  2. Kemp advertised heavily during the primary and early stages of the run-off, and in a humorous and memorable way, in order to create the image of him being the most conservative candidate in the race, a wise strategic move before a Georgia Republican electorate.
  3. Perhaps most importantly, President Trump endorsed Kemp last week, timing that coincides with Kemp’s substantial jump in the polls. Over the weekend, Vice President Pence came to Georgia to campaign for Kemp, thus cementing the Trump administration’s support for the Georgia secretary of state.

Combined, those reasons led to the universal polling leads for Kemp that we saw, and he appeared poised for victory. But Secretary Kemp instead won big because three separate elements came together for him during the run-off period:

  1. First, Lt. Gov. Cagle made a catastrophic mistake during a secretly recorded phone conversation when he admitted voting for a piece of legislation that he wanted killed in order to diminish political spending against him.
  2. Kemp strategically positioned himself as the most conservative candidate in the race, which is the desired position in a Georgia Republican primary.
  3. Third, and likely the crowning glory for Kemp, was President Trump endorsing him and Vice President Pence appearing at his pre-run-off campaign rally.

By becoming the Republican nominee, Cagle will face former state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams who won the Democratic primary outright on May 22. An early general election poll from Survey USA (July 15-19; 1,199 likely Georgia voters) found Kemp edging Abrams, 46-44 percent, in a tight general election battle. Interestingly, Cagle was found to also lead Abrams by a similar two-point margin, 45-43 percent.

In the Atlanta suburban area, Democrats went to the polling places to nominate two congressional candidates, but the margins here were close, quite the opposite of the statewide results. At one point during the counting, 6th District candidate Lucy McBath’s lead dwindled to just six votes.

On the positive front for Republicans, last night’s aggregate vote was only four percent below the May 22 primary participation figure, and both the GOP primary and run-off outpaced the Democratic primary turnout number. Normally, the drop-off figure for a succeeding run-off is much greater.

Democrats were forced into run-offs in both the 6th and 7th CDs. You will likely remember District 6, the northwest Atlanta seat that set an all-time national spending record for a congressional campaign in the 2017 special election. Republican Karen Handel won that hotly contested race, and now she stands for a full term. Her new opponent, thanks to a 54-46 percent Democratic run-off win last night, is gun control activist, McBath. She defeated businessman Kevin Abel. From Rep. Handel’s perspective, drawing the more liberal candidate, and one calling for strict gun control measures in the south, should be a boon to the congresswoman and makes her the favorite in November.

Additionally, Democratic turnout was off. In the primary, 41,603 individuals voted. Last night, the participation factor dropped to 26,588, down more than one-third from the number of people who participated in May.

In the 7th District, former state Budget Committee staff director Carolyn Bourdeaux defeated learning center business owner David Kim in what appeared to be a rerun of the primary election. In May, Bourdeaux topped Kim, 27-26 percent, and returns to win the run-off last night, 52-48 percent. She now faces four-term Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Lawrenceville) in the general election. Turnout here was very low, only 15,296 total votes cast, just half of the number who voted in the May 22 primary election. Rep. Woodall remains the clear favorite to win in November.

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