Augusta mayoral candidate Deke Copenhaver, who came in second in Tuesday's special election and will face first-place finisher interim Mayor Willie Mays in a runoff next month, has an advantage because he won in precincts with the highest voter turnout, local political analysts agree.
And turnout is key.
Mr. Mays finished first with 37 percent of the vote Tuesday to Mr. Copenhaver's 25 percent. But Mr. Copenhaver took 17 of the top 30 precincts with the highest voter turnout. Mr. Mays took 10, and candidates Helen Blocker-Adams and Tommy Boyles took two and one, respectively.
Twenty of those top 30 precincts are majority-white, which also bodes well for Mr. Copenhaver, the analysts say.
"I would say Deke has the advantage going in because he has the high-turnout precincts," said Dr. Ralph Walker, the director of Augusta State University's Research Center. "He has the money. He has the momentum and energy. I thought Willie would get up in the 40 percent range. He's got to be disappointed with 37 percent. That is not a good showing."
Mr. Mays' candidacy is in trouble, Dr. Walker said, because he has run "a lousy campaign," failing to activate his base and excite the voters.
Richmond County Democratic Party Chairman Lowell Greenbaum said the election results show that the party and Mr. Mays are going to have to work very hard to win the Dec. 6 runoff.
"He's going to have to be more visible," Dr. Greenbaum said. "He's been involved as the mayor and as the director of his business, but he now has to come out as a candidate. I think he understands that. We've learned there's no slam dunk. The party is very determined to win this election."
Richmond County Republican Party Chairman Dave Barbee, who supported former Augusta Commissioner Tommy Boyles, said Mr. Copenhaver appears to be in a good position to win.
Mr. Boyles' poor showing of 15 percent and political newcomer Helen Blocker-Adams' unanticipated showing of 23 percent were the big surprises Tuesday.
"I was amazed Tommy Boyles was defeated as badly as he was," Dr. Walker said. "I thought he was strong in south Augusta. They kept telling me he was, that Deke wouldn't get any votes. And he and Helen got all the votes. She's amazing. She collected $17,000 and got 23 percent. Deke got $110,000 and got 25 percent. That's amazing."
Mr. Barbee attributed Mr. Boyles' low vote to his inability to raise the kind of money Mr. Copenhaver did, The Augusta Chronicle's endorsements of Ms. Blocker-Adams, and the public's desire for a new face.
Another key to a December win is who picks up Ms. Blocker-Adams' and Mr. Boyles' voters.
"A bunch of them will stay home," Dr. Walker said. "Deke has the money and energy to get the vote out. and I'm not sure Willie has either. It all depends. Anybody who predicts a runoff is a fool, because who in the world knows who is going to come back to the polls."
But it's almost a tradition in Georgia that the second-place finisher in an election wins in a runoff, Dr. Walker said.
"The people that voted have voted for anybody other than the leader," he said. "The other finisher is almost a dissenting vote for the leader. So you would suspect that a lot of that vote - if they come back to the polls - would come back for Deke. I would think. Like I say, it's foolish to even guess."
Mr. Copenhaver and Mr. Mays have asked Mr. Boyles and Ms. Blocker-Adams to endorse them. Mr. Boyles said he is going to stay out of the race, and Ms. Blocker-Adams said she has not made up her mind. But it doesn't matter, Dr. Walker and Mr. Barbee said, because such endorsements have little or no impact.
"It doesn't make a hill of beans what the candidates say," Mr. Barbee said. "The only way that works is if they go out and start walking and talking for the candidate they endorse."
Meanwhile, incumbent Commissioner Bobby Hankerson on Wednesday asked the Richmond County Board of Elections for a recount in the District 5 race. Mr. Hankerson lost by 12 votes to retired principal Calvin Holland.
Elections Board Executive Director Lynn Bailey said results will be certified Friday and a recount will be early next week.
Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.