Charlie Harper: Races I'm watching today

May 19, 2014 

Finally, Election day is upon us. We shouldn't get too excited to get this behind us, as many of the contested races on my ballot have so many candidates that runoffs are a virtual certainty. Yet some things will be decided today. Other races will tell us where we are on the way to November.

The U.S. Senate race has gotten a lot of press for the last 16 months, so it's obviously an interest. The battle between the "Tea Party" and the "establishment" will be something experts and grass roots will argue about long after Tuesday. We'll generally save those topics for post-election analysis, but there's a lot more going on this week. With that in mind, here's five of the things I'm looking to see Tuesday night:

• Governor Deal's margin of victory: I don't expect Governor Deal to be in a runoff, but I do expect his critics to use the fact that he gets less than 100% of the votes in his primary as a sign of weakness. I'm not buying that, at least not now.

I'll use an example the 2012 candidacy of Congressman Lynn Westmoreland. He remains a popular member of Congress with his conservative credentials intact and rarely questioned. Yet in an era of TEA Party fueled anti-incumbent sentiment, Westmoreland received "only" 71.6% of the vote against two underfunded, relatively unpublicized challengers. In most contests, that's still considered a landslide.

Governor Deal similarly has two opponents, both of whom have received significant media attention and at least one has paid TV ads in the Atlanta market. As such, I think Westmoreland's 2012 primary vote should be looked at as a possible high water mark for the Governor. Anything in that ballpark and he's set up well for a general election.

• How many people voted? Consultants, candidates and pundits began to second guess themselves when they began to review the number of people voting early. Or, perhaps it's more accurate to say they were somewhat alarmed at the numbers of people not voting early. This is the first time Georgia has held a general primary this early. Conventional wisdom is that with schools still in session, more people would participate. The opposite may be true. As such, campaign plans and poll numbers may be off significantly. We'll have a lot of the professionals pouring over the differences of poll numbers versus turnout for some time to come.

• What's the dropoff in total number of votes from the Governor's and/or Senate race to the state School Superintendent's race? Well, there are nine candidates in this down ballot race, and even GOP insiders are scratching their heads at whom to support or vote for. The number of candidates has given many voters an excuse to not invest the time in getting to know the candidates or their positions. My guess is that many skip this race. I'll be looking to the bottom of the list and voting for Kira Willis.

• How do Sam Moore and Charles Gregory fare? House incumbents Sam Moore of Cheorkee County and Sam Moore of Cobb are the two incumbents most closely identified with the GOP's Libertarian wing. They're most likely to vote "no" on anything and everything, and it was Moore who introduced the bill that would have allowed convicted sex offenders to loiter near schools. While the Libertarians within the GOP have fielded a longer list of candidates than ever before for this year's primary, the success of these two in getting re-elected (or not) will tell us more about the market for this brand of "Republican" with GOP voters.

• The Speaker of the House: David Ralston has his own contested primary in House District 7, which is Fannin, Gilmer and part of Dawson counties. This one, frankly, I'm just watching for sport. Speaker Ralston has become the boogey man for everyone from Georgia Right to Life to the Tea Party to any anti-establishment interest that can't understand why its version of anarchist-limited government hasn't yet been enacted, freeing them of all their problems in life. They have often threatened to remove him from office. This year, they have tried. They will fail. The only questions are how badly and how often they (won't) be taken seriously when they resume making the same threats in January.

Charlie Harper, author and editor of the Peach Pundit blog, writes on Georgia politics and government; www.peachpundit.com.

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