“In some ways it’s a battle of old Cobb versus new Cobb,” said Kennesaw State University political science professor Kerwin Swint, who specializes in campaigns and elections.
“I know Bill Byrne has friends in Cobb County, and I think he’s depending on people he and his wife know getting out the troops, and where Tim Lee is concerned, I think it’s a matter of using his financial edge to make phone calls, beat the bushes and get his voters to come back out for him again.”
Byrne said Monday that TSPLOST supporters were punishing him for opposing the transportation tax by sending out robocalls that trashed him and favored his opponent, Tim Lee.
“It’s punishment for my active campaign to defeat the state TSPLOST,” Byrne said.
Jim Galloway reports in his “Political Insider” column that his Kennesaw answering machine received a message attacking Byrne over a Bedminster recycling facility he promoted in the 1990s. Galloway reports that the message was paid for by a group called Cobb 2012 and that one of its funders is United Distributors, Inc., in Smyrna, whose CEO, Doug Hertz, was a TSPLOST proponent.
Lee distanced himself from the robocalls.
“My campaign has done no negative campaign robocalls this week at all. None,” Lee said.
Lee is factually correct, Byrne acknowledged.
“But he does know they’re going out, and he has told the folks ‘go do it,’ and I brought this up in one of our forums about these robocalls, and depending on which one you get they’re pretty nasty stuff,” Byrne said.
The Journal contacted Hertz’s office to ask if he is indeed punishing Byrne for opposing the TSPLOST.
Hertz emailed back, writing, “I do not know Mr. Byrne and don’t recall ever meeting him, but I do know Tim Lee and like and admire him very much. It is my opinion that he is the type of courageous, visionary leader that we need in Cobb County to keep moving us forward. I am proud to support him.”
Byrne said it’s just more of the same special interests from the Cobb and Metro Atlanta chambers of commerce to the county’s two CIDs that supported the TSPLOST.
“With the defeat of the TSPLOST they are terrified that they would have to deal with me because HB 277, which creates the TSPLOST mandates that Plan B come back to the voters in two years, and that the players have to come back to the roundtable to come up with a new project list,” Byrne said. “The last person they want to see come to the Atlanta Regional Commission is Bill Byrne. My viewpoints are diametrically opposed to theirs, and I won’t sign off on anything they want to do, and without Cobb County within the ARC, the City of Atlanta passionately believes the other counties, now that the TSPLOST has been unanimously defeated, will follow my lead. And that terrifies them. Their campaign contributions to Tim Lee aren’t to support Tim Lee. They’re to oppose me.”
Voters are invited to watch the returns with either candidate this evening.
Lee said he will be hosting his forum at the Embassy Suites in Kennesaw beginning at 7 p.m.
“It’s open to anyone who wants to come, black tie or not,” Lee said.
Lee said he was spending Monday continuing to call people on his voter list, asking them to turn out today and vote for him.
“In general, it’s been positive. They like the personal touch,” Lee said of the response he’s received from the phone calls.
Lee said he is expecting to win tonight.
Byrne said he will be at the Marietta Conference Center at 6 p.m. but expects people to start dropping by after 7 p.m. to watch the results, which he believes will be decided by about 10 p.m.
“I can’t remember the last time in my life I’ve been this tired and this excited about the opportunities ahead for us only because of the manner in which this campaign unfolded,” Byrne said. “A long time ago I learned if a candidate cannot campaign on his track record and just starts throwing crap against the wall hoping some of it sticks, they’re in serious trouble. We’ve campaigned exclusively on the issues. I’ve gone after Tim pretty aggressively, but not as a person, but on the policies, philosophies and voting record that he’s had for the last two years. We have been competitive in our advertising and getting our message out after being outspent 7 to 1, and I sincerely believe if 10 percent of the voters turn out tomorrow that we’re going to prevail. I think it’s going to be close, but I think we’re going to prevail.”
Yet Swint said Byrne has an uphill battle.
“If I had to bet I’d bet Lee is probably going to pull it out, but you can never be too sure,” Swint said. “Incumbents are tough to unseat unless you have a financial advantage, unless you have a turnout advantage of something going for you, incumbents are hard to beat. They have the name ID advantage. They have the financial advantage usually. Voters want a good reason to oust an incumbent normally. And so just in general they’re hard to beat, but with Lee’s baggage this year and with Bill Byrne’s foothold in the county, he was the incumbent, things can happen. Who knows?”
While Lee has the financial edge, Byrne successfully aligned his campaign with the anti-TSPLOST movement which saw a majority of voters reject the TSPLOST in the July 31 primary.
“Not having TSPLOST on the ballot could be a huge drop in those folks coming to vote, so that is a potential problem for Byrne if those anti-TSPLOST people don’t come back in significant numbers,” Swint said.
Polls will be open today from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
For more information, call the Cobb County Board of Elections & Registration at 770-528-2581.