There was a time when general election campaigns didn’t “officially” get underway until after the Labor Day weekend.
You might see candidates show up on TV or give a speech prior to that holiday, but voters really didn’t pay much attention until that two-month period leading up to the November election.
That seems like a quaint notion now, especially where the elections for governor and senator are concerned.
Democrats and Republicans started firing at each other almost before they’d finished counting the ballots in the July 22 runoffs, and millions of dollars have already been spent on attack ads by various Washington-based groups. The full-bore combat started several weeks before the traditional Labor Day kickoff.
Even if we don’t observe the old traditions anymore, this is still a good time to look at the major races and see what might shake out this fall.
The congressional races are easy to predict. Georgia has 14 U.S. House seats, but there really isn’t much doubt who the winners will be in 13 of those districts. Republicans Buddy Carter, Lynn Westmoreland, Tom Price, Rob Woodall, Austin Scott, Doug Collins, Jody Hice, Barry Loudermilk and Tom Graves are expected to prevail. So are Democrats Sanford Bishop, John Lewis, Hank Johnson and David Scott.
The only House race really in doubt is the 12th Congressional District where Democratic Rep. John Barrow is facing Republican Rick Allen, an Augusta contractor.
Barrow has become the great white whale for Georgia Republicans. They spend large amounts of time and money trying to harpoon him every two years, only to see Barrow swim away to another term. Then they redraw the lines of his district in hopes they can beat him in the next election.
Allen initially ran for the 12th District seat two years ago but lost to state legislator Lee Anderson in the Republican primary. He has spent nearly a million dollars of his own money in 2012 and 2014 trying to win this congressional seat, so Allen obviously wants it badly.
Barrow is a prodigious fundraiser and cranked up his general election campaign with a substantial advantage in money.
The last figures from the Federal Election Commission showed Barrow with $1.87 million cash on hand. Allen by comparison had $225,567 in the bank, but also was weighed down by $825,000 in campaign loans and debts.
Regardless of the disparity in funds, Allen will get some financial help from national Republicans, and the 12th district’s demographics are still more friendly to Republicans than to Democrats. This could be the ultimate test of Barrow’s ability to survive in elected office.
In the two statewide races that everybody is watching, the Republican nominees are the favorites at this point: businessman David Perdue over Democrat Michelle Nunn in the Senate race and Gov. Nathan Deal over state Sen. Jason Carter in the race for governor.
The polling website run by statistical guru Nate Silver projects that Perdue has a 75 percent chance of winning the Senate race, while Nunn’s chances are put at the 25 percent level — in other words, the odds are one in four that Nunn might upset Perdue.
In the governor’s race, the Daily Kos website says the probability of Deal winning another term is 68 percent, compared to 32 percent for Carter — a 1-in-3 shot for the Democratic challenger.
The most intriguing aspect of both races is the possibility that Georgia’s election law requiring the winner to have a 50-percent-plus-one-vote majority in a general election could force runoffs.
Libertarians Andrew Hunt in the governor’s race and Amanda Swafford in the Senate race should get 2 or 3 percent of the vote at a minimum, and possibly a point or two more. If the races are close enough, the
Libertarians could swing just enough votes from the Republican frontrunners to pull them under that 50 percent threshold.
We saw this happen in 2008 when Sen. Saxby Chambliss fell barely short of getting 50 percent in the general election and was pushed into a runoff with Democrat Jim Martin.
In a runoff scenario, voter turnout patterns tend to favor Republicans. But the fact that either Deal or Perdue could be drawn into a runoff in the first place shows how much the political dynamics in Georgia have changed.
Tom Crawford is the editor of the Georgia Report.