Charlie Harper: Georgia runoff halftime update

June 24, 2014 

What if Georgia hosted a runoff and nobody came?

That's not entirely likely, but the less than stellar results from Georgia's May 20 primary may preview an even small group of Georgians who return July 22 to decide key races, including a U.S. Senate nomination, state School Superintendent nominees of both parties, three GOP nominees (and presumed winners) for Congress, and assorted other races with smaller footprints.

With Nathan Deal soundly securing his nomination for re-election last month, the top of the ticket is squarely focused on Jack Kingston versus David Perdue for marquee billing. Kingston has spent his time since the primary consolidating the wings of the GOP, bringing public endorsements from both Karen Handel and Phil Gingrey.

Of note is that many of those within Handel's grassroots infrastructure have also provided public endorsements of Kingston. Given that Handel was greatly outspent by the two remaining candidates, her close third-place finish can be directly attributed to her base that is now very publicly aligned with Kingston. Despite finishing a few points behind Perdue in the first round, it's hard to see anything other than momentum with Jack at this point. Advantage Kingston.

Getting people to the polls will factor in who advances past July 22, and the Senate race should have a spillover effect into the race to see who replaces Kingston in Congress. State Senator Buddy Carter is facing Tea Party challenger Bob Johnson. While it's conceivable that a low turnout could favor a Tea Party upset, it's not likely that the folks in Georgia's 1st Congressional District are going to stay home when Kingston needs their votes to move him into the Senate.

Furthermore, third-place finisher John McCallum has officially endorsed Carter, and it's not a difficult stretch to see most McCallum voters aligning more closely with Carter than with the challenger whose greatest feat is issuing press releases calling Carter a "liberal" multiple times a week. Carter and McCallum combined for 57% of the May 20 vote. Advantage Carter.

In Georgia's 11th Congressional District, Barry Loudermilk will be facing off with Bob Barr, who has returned to the Republican Party following a bid to be President as a Libertarian. This is as Barr has also returned to his home district after he left Congress by entering a primary and losing to then-Congressman John Linder. Barr is working the race hard, but his second place finish on May 20 is more about lingering name ID than a vision for the future of a GOP Congress. Loudermilk is more representative of the current GOP, and should remain the strong front runner going into next month's voting. Advantage Loudermilk.

Paul Broun will not be returning to Congress next year either, with Rev. Jody Hice and trucking firm owner Mike Collins left as the options for those in Georgia's 10th District. Courtesy of redistricting, the 10th isn't as … Paul Brounish as the district that originally elected Broun, and this provides the backdrop for one of the more competitive runoffs remaining. During the original campaign, Hice was the only one of 7 candidates to routinely use Broun's name on the stump, pledging to be the heir apparent to Broun. Collins, meanwhile, emphasized his business background and the need for someone to bring a common sense businesslike approach to solve Washington's problems. The voters of Georgia 10 have an actual choice of both style and direction to go here, and it bears continued watching.

The state school superintendent's race also provides real choices on both sides of the aisle, and will get more coverage in this space before the primary runoff. Republicans have a choice between Mike Buck, who works for current Superintendent John Barge, and Richard Woods, who lost to Barge four years ago. While there are many differences between the two, most will sum it up as Buck being supportive of Georgia's Common Core standards while Woods opposes them. Neither, disappointingly, favors charter schools.

On the Democratic side, Valerie Wilson will take on Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan for the highest-profile Democratic nomination remaining open. School choice is a major delineation between the two, as Morgan has long been an advocate for public charter schools and expanding options for those trapped in failing schools.

Turnout will be key, as this race plus a few local other ones will drive Democratic turnout, and while Morgan finished second in May, she shouldn't be counted out. Anyone who looks at where the charter school amendment passed overwhelmingly will see that the potential for this issue to be helpful to a Democrat who can properly harness it is ready and waiting.

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

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