ATLANTA — Every statewide official will be up for re-election this year in Georgia, and sitting atop the ballot will be one of the most closely watched U.S. Senate races in the country.
In 2010, Georgia Republicans claimed every statewide office and Democrats were left to wonder how long it would take to rebuild. Four years later, Michelle Nunn and Jason Carter lead the Democratic ticket, posing a crucial test on how far the party has come. Meanwhile, Republicans are backing businessman David Perdue in the Senate race and Gov. Nathan Deal.
Here are five things to know about state and federal elections this fall in Georgia:
While the race for Georgia’s open Senate seat has received the most coverage nationally, the battle between Deal and Carter has major implications. Deal is asking for four more years to continue rebuilding the economy, creating jobs and improving education. Carter, a state senator from Atlanta, argues Georgia can’t afford another four years of Republican policies, citing a chronic underfunding of education and an unemployment rate among the worst in the country. Deal has countered Carter lacks details on how he would close the education funding gap without raising taxes and attacks Carter for voting against his most recent budget, which included a sizeable increase in education funding, after supporting his first three budgets. Meanwhile, Carter has called for an independent investigation into claims one of Deal’s top aides pressured the head of the state ethics commission to settle complaints against the governor. The governor has denied any involvement and dismissed Carter’s call as election-year politics.
There is no question Georgia’s demographics are changing. The state’s minority population continues to grow along with an influx of out-of-state residents. The question for Democrats is whether they are changing fast enough for them to pull in enough new voters. Some have estimated it will be at least another four to eight years before the Democratic base expands enough to make the state competitive, but Nunn and Carter are banking on an effort now aimed at registering minority voters. Republicans are also reaching out by sending party workers into minority communities with a message of fiscal responsibility and job creation.
All in the family
Some familiar names will be featured on the ballot this year with the descendants of three prominent Georgia Democrats running for statewide office. In the Senate race, Nunn is the daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn, a popular moderate who represented Georgia for years. In the governor’s race, Carter is the grandson of former President Jimmy Carter. And Chris Irvin is running for the seat once held by his grandfather, former Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin. While Nunn has featured her father in a TV ad and mentions him frequently at campaign stops, Carter has been largely relying on his grandfather’s counsel and fundraising help. The elder Carter has yet to appear in a TV ad or on the campaign trail, although that may change as the election nears.
The Libertarian Party in Georgia is fielding candidates in both the Senate and the governor’s race, hoping its message of small government, personal liberty and fiscal restraint will resonate with voters. Amanda Swafford, a paralegal and former Flowery Branch councilwoman, will compete against Nunn and Perdue. Andrew Hunt, the former CEO of an Atlanta nanotechnology firm, will challenge Deal and Carter. While the Libertarian Party in Georgia has about 1,000 active members, its candidates running statewide have consistently drawn about 3 percent to 4 percent of the vote.
Under Georgia law, a candidate wins only if he or she claims 50 percent plus one vote. Depending on how Libertarians perform, a close race for Senate or governor could lead to a runoff. And that’s where things get tricky. Earlier this year, state lawmakers responded to a federal judge’s ruling that Georgia must give more time for overseas ballots and extended the time period between the state primary and the state runoff to nine weeks. But lawmakers didn’t make the same change for the Nov. 4 general election. That means a runoff in the governor’s race would be the traditional four weeks long and held on Dec. 2, while a runoff in the Senate race would be five weeks after that on Jan. 6.