Originally created 09/08/02

Candidates in runoffs expect few at the polls



ATLANTA - One day before the nation pauses to reflect on Sept. 11, Georgia voters will be asked to return to the polls for a slate of primary runoff elections.

Republican races for lieutenant governor and secretary of state and a Democratic contest for state school superintendent will constitute the statewide ballot Tuesday.

But candidates in each race fear that the hearts and minds of voters won't be at the ballot box.

"Eight to 10 percent (turnout) is what I've been hearing," said Phillip Foil, the campaign manager for state Sen. Mike Beatty, who faces former Rep. Steve Stancil in the lieutenant governor's race.

On the Democratic side, Joe Martin and Barbara Christmas will square off for the right to meet Republican Rep. Kathy Cox for state school superintendent in November. Superintendent Linda Schrenko resigned to seek the Republican nomination for governor.

Republicans Vernadette Ramirez Broyles and Charlie Bailey will compete to challenge Cathy Cox, Georgia's secretary of state.

In each of those races, no candidate was able to win more than 50 percent of the vote during the Aug. 20 primary. When that happens, under Georgia law, a runoff is held.

Voters who didn't cast a ballot last month can participate in either party's runoff. Those who did vote, though, must stick with the same party.

In the lieutenant governor's race, most of the recent headlines have focused on a lawsuit Mr. Stancil filed last week against Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor.

Before the primary, Mr. Taylor, a Democrat, ran television ads saying Mr. Stancil had been "found guilty and fined for money laundering."

In June, the former Canton legislator admitted violating state ethics laws and agreed to pay a $250 fine and return illegal campaign contributions.

Mr. Stancil's lawsuit says the ad defames him because its wording suggests he committed a felony and broke federal law. Mr. Taylor's campaign is standing by the ads.

Mr. Stancil and his supporters are using the Taylor attack to claim that Mr. Stancil is the Republican with the best chance to win in November.

Mr. Beatty, who lists reforming ethics laws among his top campaign priorities, declined to comment directly on the ads or the lawsuit. But his campaign staff notes that roughly 70,000 fewer votes were cast in the GOP lieutenant governor primary than for governor and in some down-ballot races.

They suggest that the ads, and Mr. Stancil's perceived vulnerability on the issue, led voters not to support any candidate in the race.

Mr. Beatty led Mr. Stancil by slightly more than 1 percent in the primary - 44.8 percent to 43.6. Al Bartell drew 11 percent of the vote.

Both candidates tout themselves as proven conservatives. Mr. Stancil, the former House Republican leader, says his 12 years of experience in state government make him the best candidate to become Georgia's first Republican lieutenant governor.

Mr. Beatty says his experience as a former teacher and poultry farmer put him in touch with some of the state's top issues.

In another race, Ms. Christmas took a healthy lead over a six-person field in the primary, with 38.5 percent of the vote. Mr. Martin finished second with 24.1 percent.

Mr. Martin, of Atlanta, said he hopes to make up the difference in the metro Atlanta area.

Tensions are high in the Republican race for secretary of state, where three-time contender Mr. Bailey is squaring off against political newcomer Ms. Broyles.

Mr. Bailey won 47 percent of the vote in the Aug. 20 primary, compared with Ms. Broyles' 26 percent.

Ms. Broyles finished only 193 votes ahead of the third-place candidate, Jerry Wyatt.

Despite her second-place standing, Ms. Broyles - who has touted her Hispanic heritage - has captured the endorsements of several GOP leaders, including gubernatorial candidate Sonny Perdue.

Reach Doug Gross at (404) 589-8424 or mnews@mindspring.com.