As we look back on the May 20 primaries, and look ahead to the July 22 run-off elections, we wanted to provide you with this inside look at the races to watch (Senate, School Superintendent and General Assembly), and also take a deeper dive into the Senate election numbers. Enjoy!

Recapping the Races to Watch


Going into the Primary, the Republican race for the U.S. Senate had two accepted predictions that proved to be true:

  1. David Perdue would place first, and
  2. The primary was headed to a runoff.

The unknown factor was who Perdue would face in that runoff.

A late surge by former Secretary of State Karen Handel had placed the number two spot in the runoff in jeopardy for Congressman Jack Kingston, who had been running a strong second to Perdue in the recent polls. In fact, a number of polls taken during the early voting period showed Handel surpassing Kingston and even in a statistical tie for first place with Perdue. A late ad buy from the Kingston camp had pulled him back even with Handel according to an Insider Advantage/Fox 5 News poll released the day before the May 20 election showing Handel and Kingston both in second place tied at 17% each.

In the end, the strong ad push combined with the fiercely contested Republican Primary in Kingston's Congressional District was enough to push him into second place, beating Handel by 23,143 votes. Four years ago in the Republican Primary for Governor, Handel came in first largely on the strength of the vote of the coastal communities in southeast Georgia. As part of Jack Kingston's Congressional District, Handel not only lost those counties she had won, or at least beat Deal in, four years ago, but lost overwhelmingly.

For example, in 2010, although she was not the top vote getter in the county, she received 2,239 votes in Savannah's Chatham County to Nathan Deal's 733. This year she received only 1,232 votes while Kingston received 13,988, over 2,100 more votes than State Senator Eric Johnson, who won Chatham County, had received in 2010. Also in 2010, Handel won Glynn County with 2,548 votes to Deal's 568. In 2014, her vote total in the county dipped by 61 percent to 994 votes to Kingston's 5,655. In 2010, Handel placed above Deal in 123 of Georgia's 159 counties. In 2014, she placed above Kingston or Perdue in only 7 of 159 counties; Catoosa, Whitfield, Murray, Fulton, Forsyth, Gwinnett, and Columbia. Overall, Kingston won an impressive 75 percent of the vote in the 1st Congressional District, which comprised 24 percent of the total statewide vote in the primary. Compare that to Handel's 40 percent in her home base of Fulton County and the numbers were never going to be there for her to make the runoff.


Both primaries for State School Superintendent resulted in runoffs. On the Republican side, no candidate was able to top even 20 percent of the vote with the top vote getter, Mike Buck, the current Chief of Staff for the Georgia Department of Education, getting only 19.52 percent of the vote. Buck will face Richard Woods, a former principal, assistant principal and social studies teacher. Buck, who has the backing of outgoing Superintendent John Barge, is in favor of implementing Common Core standards in Georgia while Woods is opposed. Buck will likely have a money advantage going into the primary, but with runoffs being dominated by the most hardcore and ideological of each party's base, Woods might have the upper hand even if he won't have the money.

On the Democrat side, the two headed into the runoff may reflect the strength and large voting populations of their geographic bases as much as their differences on the issues. Cobb County State Representative Alisha Thomas-Morgan is facing Valarie Wilson, the DeKalb County based Decatur City School Board Chair. Wilson received the most votes at 32.59 percent to Morgan's 26.4 percent in the six-way race. Both candidates are strong supporters of charter schools, an issue that divided them from some of the other candidates in the primary. However, Morgan favors private, for-profit charter schools, as well as public and non-profit charters while Wilson does not, only supporting public and non-profit charter schools. As with the Republican primary runoff electorate being more to the right, the pull to the left among the Democratic runoff electorate might very well give the edge to Wilson despite Morgan's network of her fellow Democratic legislators from around the state.


Other races which merited watching were the primary challenges of Senators Don Balfour in Gwinnett County and Jack Murphy in Forsyth County. While Murphy received enough votes to at least advance to the runoff against businessman Michael Williams, Balfour was not so lucky as his two primary opponents, County Commissioner Mike Beaudreau and Lawrenceville City Councilman P.K. Martin eliminated Balfour from the race and will face each other in the July 22 runoff.

More than it did in the 2010 midterm elections, Georgia seems to be hit with anti-incumbent fever as, in addition to Balfour, four other members of the Georgia General Assembly lost their offices. Veteran Democrat State Senator Steve Thompson fell victim to the changing demographics of his senate district, losing by a narrow 154 votes to Michael Rhett. Rhett, who does not have Republican opposition, will take the seat in the Senate next year. 

Republican State Representatives Willie Talton (HD 147), Charles Gregory (HD 34), and Sam Moore (HD 22) all came short in their bids for re-election with Talton losing to Heath Clark, the media director for a Warner Robbins church, Gregory losing to Marietta attorney Bert Reeves, and Sam Moore failing to make it into the runoff which will determine the winner between school teacher Meagan Biello and Wes Cantrell, a former teacher and the Youth Adult Pastor at First Baptist Church of Woodstock.

Gregory and Moore both were considered to be part of the so called "Liberty" wing of the Republican Party, made up mostly of the former supporters of Presidential candidate Ron Paul. Gregory surprised the political establishment by unseating veteran Republican State Representative Judy Manning in the 2012 primary while Moore was elected in a special election following the death of Representative Calvin Hill. Both, along with Rep. Jason Spencer of Woodbine, who handily beat his primary opponent, were targets of the newly formed Georgia Coalition for Job Creation, a Political Action Committee funded by some of Georgia's top corporations, which targeted incumbents for supporting legislation considered detrimental to business growth in Georgia.

Deep Dive into the Senate Numbers

There is a general rule of thumb that the second place finisher in an election has the advantage in the runoff, but that myth has not proven to be true. According to University of Georgia professor Dr. Charles S. Bullock, III, the first place finisher wins the runoff about 80 percent of the time. Part of that determination has to do with how close the first and second place finishers are, but with 4.85 percent separating Perdue and Kingston, Perdue should feel good, but not great, about the position in which he is starting the runoff.

There is another number that should bring a smile to Perdue's face and that is 152. 152 is the number of counties out of 159 in which Perdue placed either first or second. Perdue placed second in five of the seven counties won by third place finisher Karen Handel (shaded green). In Catoosa County, it was Jack Kingston who came in behind Handel and in Columbia County, Congressman Paul Broun placed second. However, even in Columbia which saw its top two finishers eliminated, it is still David Perdue as the top vote getter between himself and Kingston.

In the four counties won by Congressman Phil Gingrey (shaded grey), Perdue finished second and the same held true inthe 14 counties won by Congressman Paul Broun (shaded orange). Counties won by Jack Kingston are shaded red while counties won by Perdue are in blue.

Click here to view map.

A lot of Kingston's chances will contend on two things, holding onto his impressive margins in south Georgia, and securing a large majority of the supporters of Karen Handel, Phil Gingrey and Paul Broun to overcome Perdue's strong second place support in the counties not won by either of them.

Turning out his south Georgia base will be helped by the runoff in his home 1st Congressional District, but there are also runoffs in the 10th and 11th Districts where Perdue did well, either winning key, voter-rich counties in those districts, like Barrow, Cobb, Cherokee, Henry, and Newton counties, or placing a strong second, like he did in Gwinnett, Fulton, and Bartow counties. With that in mind, Kingston will have to make strong inroads into those areas, especially in the Atlanta metro area dominated by Handel and Perdue, to have any chance of moving to the Senate, and Kingston started taking steps to do just that even before the primary. Kingston has already begun that process, very quickly securing the endorsements of first Karen Handel and then Phil Gingrey, and early polling conducted June 2-3 by 11 Alive News/SurveyUSA shows Kingston opening a double digit lead over Perdue with 52 percent to Perdue's 41 percent with a margin of error of +/- 3.2 percent.

Early in January Kingston announced he would be locating his campaign headquarters in Gwinnett County rather than his home base of Savannah. That strategy may have already started working as Kingston placed third in the Primary, beating Broun who represents a portion of Gwinnett in Congress.

Something else that could work both for and against Kingston is time. In the past, Georgia runoffs were settled in three weeks, not giving a lot of time for the candidates to expand their base of support, but Kingston has eight weeks, an enormous amount of time by Georgia campaign standards. The reason it works against him is simply money. Perdue has already put over $2 million of his own money into the race and Kingston's pockets are not quite so deep. Advertising typically plays an even larger role in runoffs than it does in the preceding election, although that was mostly due to the compressed time frame. Perdue has both the personal and donated funds to keep the ad pressure on while Kingston has to constantly fund raise to keep up.

The Associated Press reported that combining all expenditures by all candidates and independent committees, each vote in the Georgia primary cost about $30 to get out. Expect the runoffs to push that number much higher.

Attorney Jason Shepherd