Originally created 11/04/99

History favors runoff challengers



If history holds true, Augusta Commissioner Freddie Handy might have more to worry about than his opponent in the District 2 runoff election Nov. 23.

Incumbents often become the underdog in Georgia runoffs, said Ralph Walker, a political scientist at Augusta State University.

"In Georgia, incumbents historically have been very vulnerable in a runoff," Dr. Walker said. "The person who comes in second place has the advantage in a runoff.

"Sometimes the challengers are young guys, and they now have a little taste of blood, and their people will come back to the polls. They smell victory."

Mr. Handy failed -- barely -- to garner 45 percent of the vote in Tuesday's general election for the District 2 seat on Augusta Commission. That percentage was the magic number to win the four-way race outright.

Instead, Mr. Handy faces Marion F. Williams, Tuesday's second-place finisher.

Mr. Handy received 44.62 percent of the vote Tuesday to Mr. Williams' 31.62 percent. W.W. Law IV finished third with 13.42 percent. Candidate James A. Payne finished fourth with 10.34 percent.

Mr. Handy has not asked for a vote recount, said Lynn Bailey, executive director of the Richmond County Board of Elections. By law he cannot receive one, she said, since only losing candidates are entitled to recounts.

The commissioner said Wednesday he had no comment about the runoff.

"I don't have anything to say," Mr. Handy said.

Mr. Williams said his strategy is to remain visible in the district and push people to vote again.

"We know the weather played a factor in the turnout (Tuesday), but people need to know how important it is to come out," Mr. Williams said. "I don't take anything lightly.

"We have to have the majority vote. It's going to be an uphill battle. It's not going to be anything we can just sit back and relax on."

Only 1,210 of the district's 8,872 registered voters, or 13.64 percent, voted Tuesday. Dr. Walker predicted a lower turnout Nov. 23, possibly as low as 8 percent.

Many people won't realize a runoff is being held, Dr. Walker said.

"It's strange, but people aren't too astute about voting," he said.

The outcome of the race isn't something to bet the house on, Dr. Walker said.

"Nobody knows what happens in a runoff," he said. "It's turnout and who can get their people back to the polls. More than likely, you'll have less than a 10 percent turnout, so it only takes a handful of votes to win.

"Nobody can tell you who's going to come back to the polls."

Reach Brandon Haddock at (706) 823-3409.

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