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Voter turnout is a concern each and every election cycle, particularly in primary races when interest lags.
Hall County is certainly not immune, but low turnout here might be even more pronounced in primary races this year for a few reasons.
First, several local races are uncontested. It also is a nonpresidential election year. And, finally, the primary date was moved up on the calendar this year to coincide with federal election schedules. Taken together, these factors spell trouble for turnout come Tuesday.
There are about 95,000 registered voters in Hall County, but just 2,354 cast ballots during three weeks of early primary voting. Another 409 have returned absentee ballots.
“We’ve had a very low turnout,” Elections Director Charlotte Sosebee said.
The low turnout thus far promises one of two things come Tuesday: The polls will either be dead or swamped, Sosebee said.
Sosebee said she hopes to get to 35 percent turnout once all ballots are counted, but she knows it’s an uphill battle to get there.
“If that’s the case, we will be busy on Election Day,” she said.
But it’s not just election officials who are concerned about turnout. Candidates also understand their political fortunes reside in convincing voters to go to the polls. Indeed, this is even truer of upstarts and those challenging incumbents.
Several state and local races have captured the attention of Hall County voters.
The U.S. Senate race, perhaps because of its crowded field, remains one of the most competitive in the nation.
Businessman David Perdue leads all polls, with U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Savannah, and former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel trailing just behind.
Candidates have publicly acknowledged the race will be decided in a runoff July 22, making each campaign that much more focused on turning out the vote in the closing days of the primary.
Both Perdue and Handel rolled through Gainesville in the last week as part of statewide bus tours. The staunch conservative electorate in the region makes Hall County an important stop on the Republican campaign trail.
While Kingston and Handel have questioned Perdue’s conservative credentials, their best bet at this point may be setting their sights on one another. Come May 20, second place is just as good as first.
The winner of the runoff appears likely to face Democrat Michelle Nunn in the general election. Nunn, due in part to her name-brand recognition and deep pockets, fares well against all Republican primary challengers in the latest polls, outperforming many of them.
Nunn’s candidacy has prompted Perdue, Kingston and Handel to address how they could beat her, with each claiming to be the most formidable conservative in the race.
In the contest for the 9th District U.S. House seat, incumbent Doug Collins of Gainesville faces Republican challenger Bernard Fontaine of Suches, with Democrat David Vogel awaiting in the fall.
Meanwhile, early polling shows Gov. Nathan Deal comfortably outperforming his primary challengers, garnering around 60 percent support.
Former Dalton Mayor David Pennington and state School Superintendent John Barge have staked much of their campaign on targeting Deal with charges of unethical behavior and cronyism.
But whether those charges resonate with enough voters appears to be in doubt.
Democrat Jason Carter, a state senator and the grandson of former President Jimmy Carter, lies in wait for the winner of the Republican primary. Polling shows Deal with a slight lead over Carter in a general election race.
The District 4 Public Service Commission Republican primary is perhaps the least heralded of all statewide contests.
The commission regulates the rates and services of Georgia Power, natural gas providers and telecommunications businesses in the state. The commission, however, does not regulate municipal utilities and electric membership corporations, such as Jackson EMC.
But incumbent Lauren “Bubba” McDonald, Hall County Commissioner Craig Lutz and Lavonia general practice attorney Doug Kidd each said they lament the ostensible truth that voters simply are unaware what role the commission plays in their lives.
Closer to home, South Hall races are running hot with two competitive contests that will help determine the course of public policy in the fastest-growing part of the county.
Ken Cochran and Kathy Cooper square off for the District 1 Board of Commissioners seat to replace Lutz.
Without any polling on the race, the front-runner going in is anyone’s guess.
Because there is no Democratic challenger, the winner of the primary will be the next commissioner.
Cooper and Cochran said the closing days of the campaign would be chock full of events, meeting with as many constituents as possible and attending speaking engagements across the county.
Meanwhile, Mark Pettitt and Traci Lawson McBride are challenging incumbent Brian Sloan in the Republican primary for the Post 2 Board of Education seat representing South Hall.
Each candidate has promised not to raise the millage rate to increase the school budget.
Finally, Paul Godfrey will challenge incumbent Bill Thompson in the Republican primary for the at-large Board of Education seat.
This race presents a bit of a mixed bag of candidates who don’t exactly toe the party line.
Godfrey, for instance, once ran as a Democrat for the Board of Commissioners. And Thompson, a Republican, broke the mold by refusing to sign a pledge promising not to raise taxes.
The winners of both school board races will run without opposition in the general election this fall.
While the primary represents the end of the line for some candidates, it’s just the beginning for others.