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Crawford: Other statewide races bear watching

POSTED: October 8, 2014 1:00 a.m.

With all of the focus on campaigns for governor and senator, it’s easy to overlook the fact there are other statewide races on the ballot for November.

These offices range from lieutenant governor to labor commissioner, and most of them were captured by Republicans in the great election sweep of 2010 that cemented Georgia’s position as one of the reddest of the red states.

The GOP is heavily favored to win all but one of these elections, a projection easily explained by the available financial data. In every instance, the Republican incumbent has raised many more dollars from contributors than the Democratic opponent.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, for example, had $2.02 million in contributions as of June 30 (the Sept. 30 reports were not on file as this column was being written). His challenger, former legislator Connie Stokes, reported $60,997 in contributions. Stokes’ amount was roughly one-thirtieth of Cagle’s total.

Attorney General Sam Olens raised $3.13 million. Greg Hecht, a former state legislator, raised $317,092, which is a credible amount for a statewide campaign but is barely one-tenth the money Olens had.

Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black pulled in $1.39 million in contributions. Chris Irvin, the grandson of former Commissioner Tommy Irvin, reported only $44,012

Secretary of State Brian Kemp had $1.06 million in contributions, while Democratic nominee Doreen Carter reported a miniscule $10,766. That gave Kemp a financial advantage of almost 100-to-one.

Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens raised $876,349 to $16,384 for Liz Johnson. Labor Commissioner Mark Butler reported $239,082 compared to $46,455 for Robbin Shipp.

It’s difficult to beat an incumbent under the best of circumstances. It’s laughable to think you can do it when the incumbent is outraising you by a margin of 30-1 or 100-1.

The one exception to this expected GOP sweep is the race for state school superintendent, where there is no incumbent running.

In this campaign, the Democratic nominee (Valarie Wilson) has been able to raise a little more money than the Republican candidate (Richard Woods). The most recent polling also indicates a very competitive race between Woods and Wilson. Money does make a difference in politics.

While the media haven’t been covering these races to any great extent, they could have an impact beyond this year’s election.

At least three of the Republican incumbents — Cagle, Olens, and Kemp — are thought to be interested in running for governor in 2018.

Of that trio, Cagle has done the best job of traveling under the radar. He hasn’t done much to attract the media’s attention, but he also has avoided controversies that might reflect negatively on him.

With Olens and Kemp, it has been a different story.

Olens’ office was sanctioned by Fulton County Judge Ural Glanville and fined $10,000 because the state’s attorneys did not turn over documents that should have been disclosed in a whistleblower lawsuit against the state ethics commission. Olens paid the fine but is appealing the judge’s ruling.

Olens’ lawyers lost that lawsuit and the state eventually paid out more than $3 million combined to four former ethics commission staffers to settle all the litigation. If Olens runs for governor four years from now, you can bet his primary opponents will remind voters of the judge’s allegations and the $3 million in taxpayers’ money that was frittered away.

Kemp stirred up a controversy when he accused a voter registration group founded by one of the state’s top black officeholders, House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta, of engaging in fraudulent voter registration activities.

Abrams’ group turned in more than 85,000 voter registration forms and 33 of the applications — less than 1/20th of 1 percent — appear to have been forged or erroneously filled out.

Kemp was correct to have his office investigate the suspicious forms, but he could have been a little more temperate in his public remarks. Officials from Kemp’s office later acknowledged they had found no evidence Abrams had intentionally tried to violate state election laws.

Cagle, Olens and Kemp should win their re-election races, but compare the vote totals each of them receives. The one who gets the most votes could well become the front-runner in the Republican primary in the 2018 governor’s race.

These are obscure election campaigns, but you should take the time to check them out. They’re important.

Tom Crawford is the editor of The Georgia Report.



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