ATLANTA -- As Karen Handel and Nathan Deal begin their runoff campaigns this morning, they’ll find some comfort and some concerns in Tuesday’s results.
Now that all the votes are counted -- except the overseas military votes that are unlikely to change many returns -- the results offer evidence of what voters are thinking and suggest what could happen in the four GOP runoffs.
The Republicans will be glad to know they brought out nearly twice as many voters, 679,000 to the Democrats’ 342,000. That could reduce the likelihood that the Peach State will buck the national trend of voters expressing anger at the party in the White House during a weak economy and a mid-term election for the president.
They shouldn’t store too much confidence in the turnout, though, warns Merle Black, political science professor at Emory University.
“For most potential voters in Georgia, the primary is a non-event. They are paying attention to other things in their lives,” he said.
Republicans feel some concern that the Democrats have a ticket, with experienced candidates, that is already shaping up without the pain of high-profile runoffs. Democrats have just one statewide runoff. That is between two metro Atlanta legislators, Gail Buckner and Georgianna Sinkfield, for secretary of state.
At the top are Mike Thurmond for U.S. Senate, who has won repeated statewide elections, followed by Roy Barnes, best-known and best-funded of all contested candidates on Tuesday’s ballot. Next comes Carol Porter for lieutenant governor who’ll take over the campaign machinery of her husband DuBose’s unsuccessful gubernatorial attempt.
The GOP runoff for governor will ratchet up the mud fight from the primary.
“The research is really mixed in terms of the consequences of a ‘divisive’ primary,” said Audrey A. Haynes, assistant professor in the University of Georgia's School of Public and International Affairs. “… There are a great many factors at play in deciding a general election, and the response to a negative campaign is only one of them, and not the most important.”
How it could play a role in the runoff is in determining who gets the supporters of the losing candidates.
By Handel accusing opponents John Oxendine, Eric Johnson and Ray McBerry of ethical violations, she is unlikely to woo many of their supporters to her side in the runoff no matter how hard she lobbies for her former rivals’ endorsements.
In the last debate, held Sunday night by the Atlanta Press Club, none of the Republicans would even commit to supporting the party’s eventual nominee until they knew who it was. That could mean a lot of their backers end up sitting out the general election.
A runoff visit by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the 2008 vice presidential nominee, would energize the party base, but it could also hurt in the general election. Palin is so polarizing that her visit may energize Democrats who dislike her and turn off independents who are unimpressed by her.
National pundits have used Palin’s endorsement of Handel and Newt Gingrich’s endorsement of Deal to characterize the GOP runoff as a preview of the 2012 presidential fight. If so, it would take a lot more active involvement by both.
Since Handel and Deal go into the runoff with little money to advertise their endorsements, letting voters know will depend largely on news coverage. Gingrich, as a Georgian, just doesn’t create the same buzz as the novelty of the attractive and outspoken Palin. So, Gingrich would have to aggressively campaign to get the same media exposure as one Palin visit.
Democrats will be banking on a diverse ticket. Thurmond is black, Porter is a woman, whoever wins the secretary of state nomination will be a woman and possibly black. And the nominee for labor commissioner will be a black man.
Republicans missed their chance to have a black on their statewide slate when they voted for Mark Butler over Melvin Everson for the labor commissioner nomination. Whether they have any women depends on how the runoff treats Handel and insurance-commissioner hopeful Maria Sheffield who is matched against Ralph Hudgens.
When it comes to the issues, the main one is certain to be taxation.
Taxes are the single most important issue in American politics. And you can trace that all the way back through history,” said Franklin Daniel, associate professor of political science at Georgia State University.
The candidates could be limiting their options to cope with an extremely tight budget facing the next governor in January, but to get elected they’ll be appealing to voters’ pocketbooks. Handel and Deal will compete with proposals to cut taxes, and Barnes has already begun blasting the GOP for what he describes as opening loopholes for special-interest lobbyists while raising taxes on homeowners.