On the campaign trail: Congressional runoffs are in the spotlight on Tuesday


There are a few races around the state that will be decided in Tuesday’s runoff elections, but none of them have quite the drama or media heft of the Republican runoff in Northeast Georgia’s 9th Congressional District between Martha Zoller and state Rep. Doug Collins.

Collins finished 734 votes ahead of Zoller in a hard-fought primary election where both candidates drew roughly 41 percent of the vote.

The 9th District race has divided rather neatly into a battle between the Republican Party establishment and the tea party. It also pits some of the leading Republicans from within the district against conservative celebrities from the Washington, D.C. beltway.

Zoller, a talk radio host for several years in the Gainesville market, has campaigned energetically for tea party support and sports endorsements from media stars like Sean Hannity, Sarah Palin, and Newt Gingrich who are more closely associated with Washington than with the district. Zoller did secure a key endorsement from a political figure who actually resides in Georgia, the Christian Coalition’s Sadie Fields.

Collins has the backing of establishment leaders like House Speaker David Ralston, former governor Zell Miller and numerous state legislators. Just three days before the runoff, Gov. Nathan Deal also came out publicly for Collins by recording a statement of support used in robo-calls to district voters.

Whoever wins the runoff will be the strong favorite to defeat Democratic nominee Jody Cooley, a Gainesville lawyer, in the general election.

The other congressional runoffs feature two candidates in two different districts who both have the identical name of “Rick Allen.”

In the 12th Congressional District’s GOP primary, Augusta contractor Rick Allen is trying to overtake state Rep. Lee Anderson (R-Grovetown) for the right to oppose Democratic Rep. John Barrow in the general election.

Anderson finished first in the July 31 primary with 34 percent of the vote while Allen had 27 percent of the vote. The two candidates eliminated in the primary, Wright McLeod and Maria Sheffield, have both endorsed Anderson in the runoff.

In the 2nd Congressional District’s Republican runoff in southwest Georgia, an entirely different Rick Allen, the president of a medical supply business in Columbus, is facing off against Midland consultant John House. Allen was the frontrunner with 42 percent of the primary election vote to House’s 32 percent share.

The winner of that runoff will be an underdog against Democratic Rep. Sanford Bishop of Albany in a heavily Democratic district.

Among the legislative races, Sen. Bill Heath (R-Bremen) is trying to hold off the challenge of former Paulding County commissioner Bill Carruth in the Republican runoff in Senate District 31.

Heath, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, drew 45.2 percent of the vote on July 31 for a 913-vote advantage over Carruth, who had 41.1 percent of the vote.

Former House member David Lucas of Macon is trying to topple incumbent Sen. Miriam Paris (D-Macon) in the Democratic runoff in that Bibb County district.

Paris defeated Lucas in a special election last summer for this Senate seat, but Lucas came roaring back in this year’s election and came within 197 votes of defeating Paris without a runoff on July 31. Lucas had 49.2 percent of the vote to Paris’ 45.6 percent.

The winner of the Lucas-Paris runoff will be heavily favored to win the general election against Republican nominee Bobby Gale.

In a Clayton County race, Sen. Gail Davenport (D-Jonesboro) is trying to fend off former legislator Gail Buckner. Davenport had 48.5 percent support the first around to the 42.3 percent who voted for Buckner.

Over in the House, there’s a tight race in House District 28 where Michael Harden recently resigned from the Legislature for a job with the state Department of Community affairs.

The Republican runoff is between Dan Gasaway, a builder from Homer who finished eight votes ahead of Jon Heffer, a Toccoa business president, in the primary election.

In the Democratic runoff in Cobb County’s House District 41, Michael Smith (he had 41.8 percent of the primary vote) is going up against Diana Eckles (34.8 percent). The winner faces Republican Phil Daniell in the general election.

The House District 1 race in Northwest Georgia has a Republican runoff between John Deffenbaugh, a Lookout Mountain salesperson, and Alan Painter a Rossville software engineer. The winner faces Democratic nominee Thomas McMahan in the general election.

Former House member Bob Snelling of Douglas County nearly won the House District 66 seat outright in the Republican primary, finishing with 49.6 percent of the vote. He faces Mike Miller on the runoff.

Two Democrats are in a runoff for the House District 139 seat in southwest Georgia where longtime legislator Lynmore James decided not to run again.

Tom Coogle, an Oglethorpe grocer, finished 58 votes ahead of Patty Bentley, the Taylor County Commission chairman from Reynolds, in the Democratic primary. No Republican qualified in this legislative district.

Ryan choice downplayed

Will Mitt Romney’s selection of Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate be the key to defeating Democratic incumbent Barack Obama in November?

Emory University political science professor Alan Abramowtiz says it probably will not, telling Jim Burress of WABE radio:

“Usually vice presidential candidates don’t make that much difference,” says Emory University’s Alan Abramowitz.

The political scientist is well-known for his study of presidential elections. He’s even built a model that’s eerily accurate at predicting the winner.

But he says it’s rare that a VP choice will swing many votes. Even in Paul Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin, Abramowitz says having Ryan on the ticket will have little impact.

“He’s not really that well-known state-wide, and he’s a fairly controversial figure even there.,” he says. “It’s unlikely Ryan’s selection will alter the outcome in Wisconsin, and even less likely that it will alter the outcome nationally.”

They’ve got some explaining to do

The Marietta Daily Journal has had to do a lot of explaining to its readers as to why it is endorsing Cobb County Commission Chairman Tim Lee in his Republican runoff against former commission chairman Bill Byrne.

Throughout the weeks leading up to the July 31 primary, the MDJ ran numerous articles criticizing the T-SPLOST transportation sales tax, which Cobb County voters resoundingly rejected.

Because Lee was one of the leading proponents of the T-SPLOST tax, the newspaper’s criticisms implied that Lee was also to blame for the issue being on the ballot. Byrne, like the MDJ, opposed the T-SPLOST.

But for the runoff between Lee and Byrne, the MDJ endorsement went to Lee. The newspaper explained editorially:

It’s a fair question. After all, the MDJ editorial page has been unstintingly critical of Lee throughout his two-year tenure — in fact, harshly so at times. We strongly disagreed with his decision to raise property taxes 15.7 percent last year rather than cut county spending; we opposed the TSPLOST project list that he helped co-author; and we complained that he was turning into the errand boy of insiders at the Cobb Chamber of Commerce and Cumberland Community Improvement District. And those were just the big issues we disagreed on. And Byrne was against the tax hike and one of the most outspoken opponents of the TSPLOST.

So we understand why some readers were taken aback by our endorsement of Lee on Wednesday. . . .

But when it comes to picking leaders, sometimes “how you get there” is just as important as “where you’re going.” Lee is easy to work with. He’s a chairman, not a czar. He’s not a “My way or the highway” leader like Byrne. He’s a consensus-builder like his political mentor and predecessor as chairman, (current Georgia Attorney General) Sam Olens.

There’s a fine line between being perceived as a consensus builder and between being dominated by those with whom you’re seeking consensus. Olens wrote the book on “working the room,” but there was never any doubt who would ultimately make the decision. Lee is not quite there yet. But he’s still preferable to Byrne, who as chairman rarely seemed to consult anyone other than the guy in the mirror.

Moreover, it’s inconceivable that a newspaper would endorse for chairman a candidate who just four short years ago trashed Cobb in the course of trying (without success) to persuade the Polk County Board of Elections that he was bona fide resident of that county and eligible to run for the commission there.

“The last thing I wanted to do is live in Cobb County, let alone serve in Cobb County,” he told that board in sworn testimony. “I want to make damn sure Cobb County doesn’t move to Polk County. I live in Polk, I love this county and want to make sure that we preserve and protect this quality of life, and make sure Cobb County doesn’t move here.”

Byrne can claim his comments were “taken out of context” all he wants — but there’s no question that his legendary bluntness has now come back to bite him.

© 2012 by The Georgia Report


Tags: 12th Congressional District , 9th Congressional District , Alan Abramowitz , Bill Byrne , Cobb County Commission , Doug Collins , legislative runoffs , Martha Zoller , Paul Ryan , Tim Lee