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Voters get to make primary picks
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The quadrennial decision on who will be sheriff may be the major attraction for some Georgia primary voters who go to the polls today.

While Hall County Sheriff Steve Cronic is unopposed in his bid for a third term, 23 of the state’s 159 sheriffs are retiring, and there are 45 contested sheriff’s races around the state.

In Northeast Georgia, Barrow County voters will go to the polls to decide who will succeed 20-year Sheriff Joel Robinson.

In Forsyth, Habersham, Jackson and Lumpkin counties, incumbent sheriffs all are facing opposition.

Less than a third of Georgia’s registered voters are expected to vote in today’s primary election.

Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel is projecting turnout will be about 30 percent.

She says the election will be driven largely by local races.

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. as voters choose everything from state lawmakers to local sheriffs to members of Congress. Races include the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate.

In Hall County, Republican races for clerk of superior court, tax commissioner, probate judge and a district race for county commissioner are on the ballot.

The clerk of court race has a trio of Republicans: Charles Baker, Jennifer Gibbs and Bob Vass. The race drew headlines last week after a campaign consultant for Gibbs convinced Hall County Republican leaders to denounce the campaign of Vass, a former sheriff and new convert to the GOP.

Incumbent tax commissioner Keith Echols is being challenged by J.C. Smith, while Probate Judge Patti Cornett is facing Dan Sammons.

Democrats in Hall only have a district county commission race to decide.

The race between incumbent Commissioner Deborah Mack and challenger Ashley Bell is the most visible race in the black community, according to Faye Bush of the Newtown Florist Club, a local advocacy group.

"There are a lot of signs for both," Bush said. "There have been a lot of meetings encouraging people to get out and vote."

Bush said there were no signs posted for any of the candidates in the U.S. Senate race, the only other contested race on the Democratic ballot. A race for the Public Service Commission became a one candidate affair on Monday when Handel ruled candidate Jim Powell did not reside in the PSC district and his votes will not count.

Statewide, the contested GOP races include two seats on the state Public Service Commission, while Democrats will select from five candidates for the U.S. Senate. The winner of the Senate race will go on to face incumbent Republican Saxby Chambliss, who is unopposed in his party’s primary.

"There are a couple of congressional contests that will have some interest," said Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia.

One of them is in the 10th District, which includes Banks, Habersham and Jackson counties. In that contest, Republican Paul Broun, who upset a party favorite in a special election in 2007, is facing state Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, who also is supported by the state’s GOP stalwarts.

While Broun and Fleming agree on most political issues, the race has become a mudslinging affair over Broun’s past financial missteps and questions from Broun over the validity of Fleming’s Christian faith.

The winner will face Bobby Saxon, a conservative Democrat from Jackson County, in November.

Without a major statewide top-of-the-ticket race in either party, local races likely will carry the day in much of Georgia.

"Sometimes, the race that will get out the most votes will be a hot contest for sheriff," Bullock said. "If you happen to have that, it can be a big draw. People will get more interested in that than they can about who is going to be U.S. senator."

Terry Norris of the Georgia Sheriff’s Association said sheriff’s races are a big deal.

"The race for sheriff is the biggest race in just about every county," Norris said. "They run every four years with the president, and that tends to bring them out."

Norris predicts there will be 40 to 45 new sheriffs taking office in January.

"We’re seeing a lot more candidates in these races," he said.

Running for sheriff is relatively easy in Georgia: A person only has to have a high school education, a clean criminal record and live in the county for two years.

None of Hall County’s legislative delegation face primary opposition, and only state Rep. James Mills, R-Chestnut Mountain, will have a general election opponent. Christopher Strickland, a Flowery Branch Democrat, is running against Mills in November.

In Lumpkin, Dawson and a portion of Forsyth counties, state Rep. Amos Amerson, R-Dahlonega, is facing Lumpkin County Commission Chairman Steve Gooch.

In White and Habersham counties, Republicans Rick Austin of Demorest and Mark Reed of Baldwin are vying to replace state Rep. Ben Bridges, R-Cleveland, who did not seek another term.

In the 50th state Senate District, which includes Banks, Franklin, Hart, Habersham, Rabun, Stephens, Towns counties and a portion of White County, Sen. Nancy Schaefer, R-Turnerville, is facing serious challenges from Habersham County Commission Chairman Jim Butterworth and former Cornelia City Council member Terry Rogers. Earlier this year, Schaefer announced a bid for Congress, then changed her mind and re-entered the state Senate race.

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