Republican crossover voters could influence sheriff's runoff

Thousands of Republican voters crossed over to vote in the July 31 Democratic Primary, which featured the hotly contested Richmond County sheriff’s race. Will they show up for Tuesday’s runoff and which candidate will it favor? An analysis by The Augusta Chronicle of voters in the primary suggest that sheriff’s Capt. Scott Peebles likely will be the beneficiary.

 

About half of the crossover votes were cast in 10 precincts, all of which were carried easily by Peebles. Voting records show that more than 90 percent of those crossover voters are white.

Peebles acknowledged that his campaign courted those crossover voters. It was part of his strategy, he said.

“We were definitely targeting all voters, not just one block,” he said. “I was trying to be the candidate that was appealing to both parties. That’s what elections are about, getting the most voters to vote for you.”

The Chronicle’s analysis identified about 5,100 voters who had voted as Republicans in the past eight years, but chose a Democratic ballot in the July 31 Primary. Of those voters, almost 3,000 had voted at least twice and as many as four times as Republicans in past primary elections.

Lowell Greenbaum, Richmond County’s Democratic Party chairman, was coy about saying who the crossover voters might benefit – Peebles or schools Public Safety Lt. Richard Roundtree.

“I don’t know who these people will vote for, but it will certainly have an effect,” he said. “Both candidates have to get their people out to vote.”

Roundtree, however, is sure the crossover voters didn’t cast ballots for him. He finished second in the primary with 11,744 votes to Peebles’ 13,938.

“If those 5,000 had not have crossed over, we would have won by about 3,000 votes,” Roundtree said.

Peebles said Roundtree’s objections to the crossover vote were a case of sour grapes.

“If a Republican came to Richard and said they wanted to vote for him, I’m sure he would be happy to get it,” he said.

Peebles’ campaign team is doing its best to make sure these crossover voters return to the polls Tuesday, knowing that they are key to his hopes of facing off in November against Republican primary winner Freddie Sanders.

“If people don’t understand that they need to come back out, we could lose the election,” Peebles said.

Roundtree said he needs to get new voters out, not just those that supported him on July 31. He said advance voting numbers have him encouraged.

“It is looking pretty good,” he said. “The numbers are comparable to those in the primary, but we’re just trying to get out those new voters.”

Roundtree said, however, it is “disheartening” to see people out to “desecrate the democratic process” by openly encouraging voters to change parties for one election.

He said crossover voters were influenced by local media, including a Chronicle editorial that urged Republicans to vote in the Democratic primary.

“They came out and begged Republicans to vote,” he said. “They said the (12th District) congressional race was not as important as the sheriff’s race.”

That race for the U.S. House representative has also come down to a runoff, between Augusta businessman Rick W. Allen and Grovetown state Rep. Lee Anderson. Some wonder whether having 5,000 Republicans opt out of voting in that race had an impact on those results.

“That is another question,” Greenbaum said. “How does if affect the race for Congress in the Republican party?”

That’s something Green­baum’s counterpart on the Republican side wonders as well.

“We don’t know what difference it would have been had the crossover not occurred,” said Bob Finnegan, the county GOP’s chairman.

Having another potential 5,000 voters in the mix could have influenced the outcome in the primary, he said. Those voters will not be available to either Republican on Tuesday. They are obligated to vote in the Democratic runoff, if they vote at all.

“I don’t anticipate as many will show up as last time,” Finnegan said. He speculated that most of those voters would have supported Allen because he outpolled Anderson in Richmond County.

“Of course that’s going to hurt him because they can’t support him now, even if they wanted to,” he said.

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