One day before the July 31 primary, some voters in the south-central Cobb district received a postcard from Smith’s campaign containing the words “Thank you for your support!” at the top, and photos of U.S. Reps. David Scott and John Lewis, both Atlanta Democrats, as well as Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed were featured below.
All three elected officials denied endorsing Smith.
“Congressman Scott will endorse a Democrat in a general election, but in a primary, it would be very rare for him to do so,” said Scott’s chief of staff, Michael Andel.
Lewis campaign manager Matt Weyandt had a similar message.
“Congressman Lewis has not endorsed Michael Smith, nor has he heard of him,” Weyandt said.
City of Atlanta spokesman Reese McCranie said that Reed did not endorse Smith.
Smith, a teacher, finished with 42 percent percent of the vote on Tuesday and goes to an Aug. 21 runoff against sales rep Diana L. Eckles, who won 35 percent. Attorney Justin O’Dell was eliminated after finishing third.
Eckles said she hadn’t seen Smith’s flyer. But she said she can point to people who have actually endorsed her, including state Rep. David Wilkerson of Austell and former state Rep. Pat Dooley of
“I’ve been endorsed by people who know me, know my background,” she said. “It’s just a different way of operating.”
Smith said he merely intended to use the three officials’ likenesses to show what type of leader he would be and said his mission statement is placed in between the “thanks for support” and the photos of the leaders.
“It’s done in politics all the time,” Smith said. “Nowhere on the paper does it say those people endorsed me.”
He believes the criticism was part of a coordinated attack by the Cobb County Democratic Party, which he accused of supporting Eckles. State Democrats supported O’Dell, Smith said.
Wilkerson, who endorsed Eckles before the primary, said he talked to voters who took the photos of Scott, Lewis and Reed to mean they were endorsing Smith.
“You don’t usually use somebody’s picture in a mail piece without their permission. It’s misleading,” Wilkerson said. “It’s not a good thing to do. If you want to establish a future working relationship with somebody else, it’s not good to put them in the middle.”
On the opposite side of the mailer, Smith claims to have received endorsements from groups called Health Care for all Georgia Citizens, Fully Fund Georgia Schools and South Cobb Democrats. Wilkerson said South Cobb Democrats has a website registered to Smith, meaning he effectively endorsed himself.
Smith said the South Cobb Democrats were formed out of a desire to show that O’Dell was really a Republican.
“Am I part of it? Yes,” Smith said. “It’s a group of people who got together to stop Justin O’Dell and the Republicans from winning this race. We believe the Democratic Party was under attack.”
Smith has been criticized for a history of alleged domestic violence incidents involving his wife before they were married, though his wife previously said she was very young and made up the allegations to get attention. The police reports of the incidents were fodder for a robocall in the days leading to the July 31 vote.
Smith also owes $825 in ethics fines to the state for failing to file required financial disclosures for his candidacies in 2008 and this year.
In 2008, Smith narrowly lost a state House race to Rep. Don Wix, garnering 47 percent of the vote after running a low-key campaign. This year, he was listed third on the ballot, but was the top vote-getter.
“I ran before,” he said. “We know how to run elections. We know how to do well. That’s the reason we’re doing so well. I think people are struggling with the fact that we’re doing so well.”
Smith is under contract to teach science at East Cobb Middle School this year, district spokesman Doug Goodwin said.
While the district doesn’t have a policy regarding teachers who run for state office, Goodwin said teachers who hold elected office must abide by the same leave-of-absence policies as other teachers.
Smith said he plans to continue teaching if he is elected. While he has told school administrators he is running for office, he said he hasn’t discussed specifically what would happen when he could miss weeks of work if elected.
The winner of the runoff will face Republican Phil Daniell in the general election on Nov. 6.