Byrne seemed to indicate it may.
“This will be a real political street fight,” said Byrne, who hopes to take over from retiring northwest Commissioner Helen Goreham.
The forum, sponsored by the Cobb Chamber of Commerce and Acworth Business Association, will allow candidates to ask each other questions, something Byrne has been wanting to do in previous forums.
“I sincerely appreciate the opportunity to ask Mr. Weatherford two riveting questions, and I’m anxious to see how he justifies his positions,” Byrne said with enthusiasm.
The theme song to “Rocky” isn’t playing as loudly at the Weatherford household. Weatherford is far less enthusiastic about sharing a stage with Byrne, and wondered if County Chairman Tim Lee had the right idea by refusing to debate Byrne in his own race two years ago.
“I don’t relish it because I know how he is, but I have to go through with it, and I think it will be a stark contrast between the two of us,” Weatherford said.
“Our personalities are different. I have one and he doesn’t,” Weatherford declared.
As for Byrne’s description that tonight will be “a political street fight,” Weatherford said, “Well, that’s the sign of a desperate person. I’m doing my best to keep it above board. His record has got plenty to speak about. The only thing he has to come at me is personal, so I am going to do my best to keep it professional.”
Byrne has his own predictions of how the evening will go.
“I sincerely believe that they’re going to do everything they can to make me angry and lose my temper. That ain’t going to happen,” Byrne said. “This is their last opportunity to get me to make a mistake. This is the first time I’ve ever been involved in a campaign that I sincerely believe has been mistake free. Oftentimes, you win or lose a campaign in the last two weeks.”
The forum will be at NorthStar Church at 3413 Blue Springs Road in Kennesaw. Byrne said he isn’t concerned about debating in an area Weatherford considers home turf.
“We’ve expected this, anticipated this. They’re going to beat me every way they can to get me to lose my cool, lose my temper and then they’re going to say, ‘Look, this is the divisive candidate of the past and we don’t need that in the future,’ all that good stuff. If you look at all his campaign literature, that’s what he says. ‘We don’t need a campaign with a decisive background. We need leadership we can trust.’”
Byrne said his strategy for overcoming those allegations is simple.
“I’m going to stick with the facts, stick with the issues and I think the two questions I’m going to have for him are going to separate the two of us forever and give the voters the opportunity to make a decision,” Byrne said.
Moderated by WSB’s Pete Combs, doors will open at 6 p.m. with the forum beginning at 6:30.
Byrne and Weatherford aren’t the only two candidates to square off this evening.
Others include former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr of Smyrna and former state Sen. Barry Loudermilk (R-Cassville), who are vying for the seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey; Ann Harris and Juanita Stedman, who are vying for retiring Cobb Superior Court Judge Jim Bodiford’s seat; and Brett North and Kevin Wigington, who are vying for the Post 3 alderman seat vacated by Weatherford.
“I think it will be well attended,” Weatherford said.
Byrne said with a forum such as tonight’s, he expects 75 percent of the crowd will already come supporting him or Weatherford.
“So you’re not really speaking to many trying to figure out who they’re going to vote for, so it always depends on what gets out into the public and how they perceive it,” Byrne said.
Five candidates ran in the Republican Primary for District 1, garnering a total of 17,378 votes.
Byrne received 4,358 votes or 28 percent, Weatherford received 3,811 or 24.6 percent, Angela Barner took 3,398 votes or 22 percent, Scott Tucker received 2,944 or 19 percent, and Glenn Melson received 941 or 7 percent.
Weatherford said he commissioned a poll right after the primary that surveyed about 900 people.
“I had right at 40 percent, he had a little less. He had like 27/28 percent and the rest were undecided, so I’ve been working the undecided and calling them,” Weatherford said.
Byrne said he doesn’t believe in polls.
Cobb Chamber of Commerce CEO David Connell said he looks forward to hearing what the candidates have to say.
“I think the format is really kind of unique, and it will provide some insight into all the candidates, so I’m personally looking forward to sitting there and observing just like everybody else,” Connell said.
While the chamber has not endorsed a candidate, Connell has personally contributed to Weatherford’s campaign.
“I know Bob’s style as a member of a team,” Connell explained. “I never knew Bill as anything other than chairman, and I saw Bob as a member of the Acworth City as being a person who does not necessarily agree with others on any one issue, but is always open to input and has been a good city alderman, and I think he would be a good member of the Board of Commissioners. He will be open to listening, he will draw his own conclusions based on what the citizens he represents thinks should be a decision and he will act on that, and I’ve seen him do that, and I believe that’s exactly what he’ll do in that role.”
There’s always the risk that the candidate you support isn’t the one elected, Connell said.
“That falls into the category of where you invite Lady A to go on a date or Lady B, and they both want to go out with you,” Connell said. “Sometimes, you make a decision to support one person versus another and feel passionate about it, and you just do it because you feel like it’s the right thing to do.”
Kerwin Swint, a political science professor at Kennesaw State University, said he’s been following the Byrne/Weatherford race with interest.
“Byrne’s tough,” Swint said. “He’s still got friends from the county. He is a grassroots campaigner. His wife, Babe, is very active, very popular. And he’s tough in a debate situation; I’ve seen him. He punches, he counter punches, he’s quick.”
As for Weatherford, “I know he’s got strong support in the county. The chamber is behind him,” Swint said.
Swint also believes there is a significant anti-Byrne vote in the district left over from his years as commission chairman, years Swint described as “tumultuous and controversial.”
Swint said he’d be tempted to say it was anyone’s race.
“But I think the fact that Weatherford has strong chamber support, significant money behind him and there is an anti-Byrne feeling out there, I’m not making a prediction, but Weatherford might have what it takes to come out on top,” he said.
And while the winner will face Democrat Derrick Crump in November’s general election, Swint said northwest Cobb is so heavily Republican the race will be decided July 22.