March 5 marked the beginning of qualifying week in Georgia for the 2018 General Election. Throughout the week, candidates officially threw their hats in the ring ahead of the May 22 primary contests by filing the necessary paperwork and qualifying fees with the secretary of state.
On the ballot this year are all eight statewide constitutional officers, all 14 U.S. House seats, all 56 state Senate seats and all 180 state House seats. While it’s not guaranteed that all candidates who qualified will remain in the race until May or November, it is guaranteed that this will be a busy campaign season for politicians and voters alike. Candidates currently holding elected office cannot raise funds during the legislative session, so it is equally certain that campaign season will be in full swing shortly after the 2018 session adjourns on March 29.
Absent an incumbent, the 2018 governor’s race will be one of the most crowded and hotly contested races this year. Seven Republicans and two Democrats qualified to seek their respective party’s nomination to replace the term-limited Nathan Deal. Among the notable Republican qualifiers are current Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, current Secretary of State Brian Kemp, current state Sen. Michael Williams, former state Sen. Hunter Hill and first-time candidate Clay Tippins. Former state Reps. Stacey Abrams and Stacey Evans will face off for the Democratic nomination. Hill, Abrams and Evans all resigned their seats in the General Assembly prior to the start of the 2018 legislative session.
For the first time since 2006, Republican voters will nominate a new candidate for lieutenant governor. As current three-term Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle seeks higher office, former Rep. Geoff Duncan, former Sen. Rick Jeffares and former Senate President Pro Tem David Shafer will compete for the chance to replace Cagle as the Republican nominee. Following the resignation of Duncan and Jeffares from their respective legislative offices, Shafer is the only candidate in the race who currently holds elected office. Democratic voters will choose from business executive Sarah Riggs Amico and small business owner Triana Arnold James to compete in November’s general election.
Secretary of State
Four Republicans and three Democrats hope to become Georgia’s next secretary of state. Currently in his second full term, Brian Kemp leaves this race without an incumbent as he competes to become the state’s next governor. Vying to replace Kemp on the Republican side are current state Reps. Buzz Brockway and Brad Raffensperger, current state Sen. Josh McKoon, and Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle. The Democratic candidates for secretary of state are former Congressman John Barrow, former state Rep. Dee Dawkins-Haigler and former Rockdale Tax Commissioner RJ Hadley.
Other Constitutional Officers
Incumbent Attorney General Chris Carr, Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black and Labor Commissioner Mark Butler did not draw primary challengers but will all face Democratic opponents in the November General Election. First-term state school Superintendent Richard Woods will face two Republican challengers, including his immediate predecessor John Barge, before the primary winner moves on to face one of three Democratic candidates in November. Additionally, three Republicans and two Democrats hope to replace the retiring Ralph Hudgens as Georgia’s next insurance commissioner.
Georgia General Assembly
Mirroring the trend in elections across the country, many incumbents in the Georgia legislature will have to defend against primary and/or general election opponents to retain their seats for another term. Following the resignation of 14 members of the General Assembly since the last election, most of which were to seek higher office, five Senate and nine House incumbents look to win their first general election for a full term; 12 of the 14 have held office for less than six months after winning special elections in November, January or February. While many of the candidates who qualified have never before held elected office, several candidates are looking to win back seats they previously lost or resigned.
House of Representatives
Of the 180 seats in the Georgia House of Representatives, 85 incumbents will have to defend their titles against primary or general election opponents. Fifteen of those incumbents, including Speaker of the House David Ralston, have drawn both primary and general election challengers. The anticipated 45 incumbent primary contests is a slight increase from the 39 incumbents who saw intraparty challengers initially qualify for the primaries in 2016, the state’s last general election. Fifty-five incumbents are expected to meet opponents from their opposing party in November 2018, compared to only 34 who faced general election opponents in 2016. With 17 open House seats in 2018, only 78 current representatives avoided Republican or Democratic challengers in this year’s race. In the last general election, 97 incumbents, more than half the chamber, were re-elected without major party challengers.
Five state representatives who were elected in 2016 will see their names on primary ballots for statewide office in May. With three of those resigning their seats before the 2018 legislative session, and six other midterm resignations, the House is expected, at the time of qualifying, to have only 17 open seats in 2018, compared to the 19 open seats in the last election.
Half of Georgia’s 56 senators failed to draw major party challengers in 2018, which is down from 30 senators with no qualifying primary or general election opponents in 2016. Eleven incumbents are expected to face intraparty challengers in May, while 20 incumbents saw opposing party challengers qualify for November’s general election. Six incumbents drew major party challengers in both the primary and general election, compared to just one incumbent in 2016.
Like the House, five senators who were elected in the last general election, and the lieutenant governor who also serves as Senate president, will see their names on primary ballots for statewide office in May. With two of those resigning their seats and three other post-election resignations, all of which were filled by special election, the Senate is expected to have only three open seats in 2018, the same number as in the last general election.
U.S. House of Representatives
Longtime Congressman John Lewis is the sole member of Georgia’s 14-member U.S. House delegation to avoid a major party challenger for re-election. Republican Austin Scott is the only other member of the delegation to avoid general election opposition from a major party candidate. Republicans Buddy Carter, Karen Handel and Doug Collins will face the winners of the May 22 Democratic primary, while Drew Ferguson, Rob Woodall, Jody Hice and Rick Allen will have to win their own party primary before shifting focus to November Democratic challengers. Republicans Barry Loudermilk and Tom Graves each drew one Democratic challenger. Democratic Congressmen Sanford Bishop and David Scott will face Republican challengers in November’s general election, while Hank Johnson first must defend against an intraparty challenge in the May primary.