Ga. voters get break after Tuesday

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ATLANTA - Georgians tired of hearing about politics can thin the herd Tuesday by voting against candidates in the primary runoff for the Republican and Democratic nominations.

Of course, they can also vote for the candidates they want to reward. Either way, experts predict such a small number will turn out to vote that everyone who does will have relatively more say over the outcome than in most elections.

Just 52,000 ballots had been cast in early voting as of the close of Thursday, one day before early voting closed. That's less than 1 percent of the 5.7 million people who are registered to vote. Another 30,000 mail-in, absentee ballots had not yet been returned.

Typically, turnout for runoffs is a fraction of turnout in bigger elections. Turnout last month was just 19 percent when there were more candidates and more races on the ballot.

Tuesday, the statewide ballot for Democrats will have just one race, for secretary of state between Gale Buckner and Georganna Sinkfield. Republicans must decide contests for governor, between Karen Handel and Nathan Deal, attorney general between Sam Olens and Preston Smith, insurance commissioner between Ralph Hudgens and Maria Sheffield, and public-service commissioner between Tim Echols and John Douglas.

All of the runoffs have grown negative by the final weekend.

"Sometimes you're so desperate you'll do anything to stir up the pot," said John Greer, a Vanderbilt University professor and author of In Defense of Negativity: Attack Ads in Presidential Campaigns.

His research shows that voters benefit from what candidates call comparison advertising because it gives them a basis for narrowing their choices.

"The negative stuff is all exaggeration. Of course it is. But so is the positive stuff," he said.

For plenty of comparisons, the Atlanta Press Club held debates Friday for public-service commissioner, insurance commissioner and secretary of state candidates. Archived versions are on the club's website as well as the site for Georgia Public Broadcasting. The club televised debates Sunday night for the attorney-general and gubernatorial candidates.

The gubernatorial race has drawn the most attention. On Sunday, Deal showcased an appearance in Gainesville of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, winner of Georgia's 2008 presidential primary. Today, Deal plans to fly around to cities across the state for rallies.

Handel's schedule today includes an appearance of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, GOP vice-presidential nominee at a rally.

Both candidates are trying to fire up their most loyal supporters to turn out.

Any registered voter can vote Tuesday. Those who voted in last month's primary will only be able to vote in the runoff for the same party. Those who didn't vote in July can vote in either.

Not only will a small turnout magnify the ballots of those who to vote, but a survey released Friday by InsiderAdvantage shows Deal and Handel tied.

Historically, the candidate with the most votes in the primary, Handel in this case, ultimately wins the runoff, according to statistics compiled by University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock. She was 11 percentage points ahead of him in the July voting, giving her a 74 percent chance of winning Tuesday, according to Bullock's analysis of 111 statewide runoffs in Georgia.

walter.jones@morris.com, (404) 589-8424


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