Tomorrow, Peach State voters head to the polls to finally decide Georgia’s four important federal run-off elections. Concluding what has been a very long and active nomination campaign here, complete with some surprising results from the May 20 primary, the Republican voters will now choose a US Senate nominee and likely pick congressmen in Districts 1, 10, and 11.
This contest has proven to be one of the most interesting of the entire election cycle, and the Georgia race is of foremost consequence in the national Senate picture. In order to gain the majority, Republicans must first secure the two potentially vulnerable seats already within their control: Kentucky (Minority Leader Mitch McConnell), and this race in Georgia. A Democratic conversion in either of these states would likely retain their party’s majority status.
You will remember that this particular Senate campaign originally featured three members of the congressional delegation, a former statewide elected official, and a major business leader who is a cousin to, and who shares the last name with, a former Georgia two-term governor. Nine weeks ago, the voters winnowed the field to two.
This also was a race where all five of these major contenders had a specific path to victory. Under the right political circumstances, each could have won the nomination. The run-off participants advanced because they best capitalized upon their strengths.
First-place finisher David Perdue, the businessman cousin of former Gov. Sonny Perdue (R), had the enviable position of possessing name familiarity without ever having held elective office. He was able to run against his four politician opponents as one entity, thus being able to unify the considerable Republican primary constituency looking to support an outsider.
Placing second was Savannah Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA-1). In addition to being a strong fundraiser, Kingston was the only candidate with a south Georgia political base. In a crowded primary, coalescing the Republican vote south of Interstate 16 could certainly provide enough support to finish in the top two. Such proved true. Kingston won virtually nothing in the most populous northern areas of Georgia, including the vote-rich suburban Atlanta area. In fact, in most of these regions, the Savannah congressman placed no better than third.
The run-off campaign has taken a surprising twist, too. In current anti-Washington times, holding a US House seat has not proven a good stepping stone for higher office. Therefore, Perdue should have been able to jump out to an early run-off advantage considering he could unite the anti-Washington constituency against an opponent with 20 years in the city, and he has northern Georgia strength. But, the opposite occurred.
Rep. Kingston, coming out firing to make this an ideological campaign and positioning himself to Perdue’s right, has consistently led from the outset. The businessman has been gaining, but all late published polling still concedes at least a small edge to the south Georgia representative.
In a mid-summer low turnout election, the candidate who best can activate his support base will win the nomination. Therefore, both candidates still have a legitimate chance.
Tuesday’s nominee will oppose Democrat Michelle Nunn in a race that has competitive potential. National trends should cement what is a normal Republican voting pattern here, so either Kingston or Perdue will maintain an inherent general election advantage irrespective of what early post run-off polls may show.
Run-off voters in Rep. Kingston’s open south Georgia congressional district will, for all intents and purposes, choose a new congressman tomorrow. State Sen. Buddy Carter and physician Bob Johnson are running hard against each other, with each trying to prove that he is the more conservative candidate.
Outside organizations such as the Club for Growth are attempting to strengthen Dr. Johnson, attacking Carter as being a taxer and spender. Sen. Carter has the fundraising advantage and an electoral history, but Johnson may have the more fervent supporters.
This race, too, will be turn upon which candidate can best turn their support into tangible votes.
The closest race forcing a run-off contest occurred in the Augusta/Athens area for the seat that Rep. Paul Broun (R) left to run unsuccessfully for the Senate. Radio host, pastor, and former congressional candidate Jody Hice and businessman Mike Collins, son of former Rep. Mac Collins (R-GA-8), virtually tied in the primary. Hice led in the original voting by a half-percentage point, 33.5-33.0 percent.
For the run-off, both are predictably attempting to prove who is the more conservative. Hice just earned outgoing Rep. Broun’s endorsement and should have the better local – and perhaps ideological – base, but Collins is proving to be a strong candidate in his own right. As the primary proved bitterly close, so could this run-off result.
The northwest Georgia CD-11 race is the least suspenseful. Former Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA-7) is attempting a political comeback here, in a district that contains a portion of the territory he represented prior to his post-redistricting primary defeat in 2002. Though qualifying for the run-off, he fell far behind first-place finisher Barry Loudermilk, a state Senator. Loudermilk recorded 37 percent as compared to Barr’s 26 percent.
Now with the state legislator attracting superior financial support and backing from key conservative organizations, Barr appears isolated within his more libertarian ideological sect. The former congressman was the Libertarian Party nominee for president in 2008, if you will remember.
Expect Sen. Loudermilk to win a convincing nomination victory tomorrow, and claim the seat. The Republican nominee will be unopposed in the general election.