As of this writing, the Georgia General Primary elections are just days away. When you read this, they will be in your rear view mirror. With that said, I thought I’d offer a forecast of what to expect, as well as the movement and momentum among candidates and campaigns, which shifted post-July 4th.
The race for governor
On the Democratic side of the aisle, former Gov. Roy Barnes still looks like a safe bet to become his party nominee. Strangely though, as his TV ads blanketed the state, his numbers began to drop, with the primary beneficiary being Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker. Baker’s numbers began climbing, but still remained below 20 percent, even on his home turf. Baker looks like a good second place, but if Barnes can keep his numbers above 50 percent, he still escapes a runoff, and can begin preparations for the fall election.
The GOP battle in red land is a bit more complicated. Among many GOP voters a consensus has begun to form that a John Oxendine nomination means a more likely return to the governor’s mansion for the Democratic Party in the fall. Insurance Commissioner Oxendine continues his lead in most polls and fundraising, but his percentages have continued to decline into the very low 30s, with the most recent Rasmussen poll dropping him below both candidates Karen Handel and Nathan Deal. July has held the most good news for the former secretary of state. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who has developed a national profile since her April signing of Arizona’s tough immigration law, reached outside her home state to endorse Handel. And soon after, echoing the GOP “Year of the Woman,” former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin gave Handel her nod on Facebook.
Look for a GOP General Primary Runoff battle between Handel and Oxendine. Former Congressman Nathan Deal, as well as former State Senator Eric Johnson still have a shot, though a strong or memorable ad will need to connect soon with GOP voters to make that possible.
Down-ticket raising temps—other hot races to watch
4th Congressional District Democratic Primary - What probably should have been a safe re-election campaign by incumbent Congressman Hank Johnson has been looking less and less so. Johnson has relied on a “doing the people’s business” strategy, ducking the majority of candidate forums and debates including his opponents. Johnson’s staff being thin-skinned and a bit prickly isn’t helping. Former DeKalb CEO Vernon Jones and current District 7 Commissioner Connie Stokes are both running credible challenger campaigns. With little polling data available, I give Jones the slight edge to make a run-off with Johnson, and if that happens to reverse the outcome he experienced in the U.S. Senate run-off during the 2008 election cycle.
7th Congressional District GOP Primary - A tiny sliver of DeKalb, and most of Gwinnett are in the 7th District where longtime Congressman John Linder is retiring. The large field of GOP candidates will narrow, and a run-off is likely to follow with former State Senator Clay Cox leading the pack.
DeKalb County Commission District 7 - This has always been former State Representative Stan Watson’s race to lose—and from all indicators, it does not appear that will happen. Watson looks likely to take the seat without a run-off or a credible GOP opponent in the fall.
Hopefully, by the time of the August general primary runoff election, more voters will be tuned in again. And by Labor Day, voter awareness starts to significantly increase, and by the time of the fall candidate forums and debates a solid majority will actually be paying attention.
Fast growing numbers of voters are identifying themselves as Independents, rather than selecting either the Democratic or Republican Party, as Georgia has experienced a small surge of candidates (all unsuccessful thus far) attempting to qualify, via petition, to make the ballot as Independents. Expect calls from voters to ease and improve Georgia’s ballot access laws, now considered among the most stringent in the nation.
Able and “qualified” candidates for governor, state school superintendent and Fulton County Commission chair all weren’t able to clear the many hurdles that the law and complex petition filing rules threw in front of their campaign and supporters. Keeping those ballot access laws much as they are now will likely be one of the few things that Democrats and Republican incumbents continue to agree on.
Bill Crane is a DeKalb County native and business owner, living in Scottdale, Georgia. He also serves as chief political analyst and commentator for 11Alive News and WSB Radio, News/Talk 750. Contact Bill Crane at Bill@dekalbchamp.com.