Statewide elections can often drag on late into the night, but Lt. Gov Casey Cagle conceded to his rival, Secretary of State Brian Kemp, around an hour and a half after polls closed. By the end of the night, Kemp had nearly 70 percent of the vote.
Mark Rountree, president of polling firm Landmark Communications, said Cagle had been in the lead for most of the election but began to sink below Kemp shortly before Kemp got a surprise endorsement from President Donald Trump about a week before Election Day.
“When we were doing polling along the way, Kemp started to lead about a week and a half before the end of the election, and when Trump came out and endorsed, it put down the hammer,” Rountree said. “Kemp was up 48 to 46, about a week and a half out, but when Trump came out for him, our surveys had it (as) just mass destruction basically at that point.”
Former Georgia GOP Chair Sue Everhart, like many of her fellow Cagle supporters, was disappointed in the results Tuesday.
“The Casey Cagle race, that was the shock of my life,” Everhart said. “I really thought Casey would win it or at least have a good showing. I’m sorry Casey didn’t win, I think he would have made a good governor, but the people prevailed and he didn’t win.”
Rountree said Cagle had two big problems even before Trump weighed in, including secretly-recorded tapes in which Cagle admits to backing a bill he called “bad public policy” in order to hurt the campaign of a primary challenger.
“There were the tapes, and they hurt, but the other was, in the end, they had no central message to the campaign,” Rountree said. “There was not a central message understood universally as something he was going to change, and I think you can survive one or the other, but not both.”
Rountree said Cagle did not have a signature issue to hammer on.
“What was his main issue?” he asked. “Somebody might say technical schools, somebody might say business, there are all these different answers, then he was the NRA guy for a while at the end. There wasn’t a central theme. Kemp’s central theme was ‘not a politician.’ He had subsidiary points from that, whether it’s about guns or stopping illegal immigration.”
THE GENERAL ELECTION
Now that the Republican nominee has been decided, the final stretch of the race begins. Kemp faces former State House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams in November, who won the Democratic primary in May.
Both of Georgia’s gubernatorial candidates have unapologetically embraced the more ideological sides of their party, and Rountree said he thinks they are unlikely to follow the traditional advice and tack toward the middle for the general election.
He said that may be a good plan for Georgia Democrats, whose moderation has not won them the keys to the governor’s mansion since Roy Barnes won in 1998.
“These kind of generic and moderate type messaging campaigns that the Democrats have tried for years, they just haven’t worked,” Rountree said. “They’re trying something new. I think it’s actually a smart idea to try … I think her whole strategy is to be left and to energize a bunch of new people to vote rather than just rely on trying to run up the same hill over and over and over and over.”
Everhart said she is ready to support Kemp as the next governor of Georgia, and the state Republican Party is planning a unity celebration Thursday with both Cagle and Kemp slated to attend.
Rountree said he thinks Cagle supporters will not have a problem getting behind Kemp.
“With Cagle and Kemp, it ended up being such a blowout, I don’t think people are blaming a particular thing like one TV ad, one endorsement, one comment, or anything like that,” he said. “It’s just a plethora of things that fell apart for Cagle, and he obviously had a lot of self-inflicted damage. It’s hard to just blame Kemp.”
But Rountree said that might not be the case in the race for lieutenant governor, where former state Rep. Geoff Duncan appears to have narrowly defeated challenger David Shafer. The margin was 50.16 percent to 49.84 percent, according to unofficial results.
Rountree said Duncan had released factually incorrect attack ads about Shafer, which angered Shafer supporters.
“People generally aren’t bitter when you have races that are 2-1 … But they get bitter when you have a margin of less than a percentage point,” Rountree said. “There may be some bitterness from that. It remains to be seen, and Duncan has some work to do with that… It’s going to be interesting to see if there is long-term residual anger … It’s going to be interesting to see how many (Republicans) just refuse to vote in that race.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, Shafer’s campaign said it was still waiting on provisional ballots to be counted before deciding whether to ask for a recount.
Duncan faces Democrat Sarah Riggs Amico, of Kennesaw, owner of Jack Cooper, which employees thousands of union truckers and mechanics.
Northwest Cobb will have a new commissioner next year after Bob Weatherford lost to challenger Keli Gambrill 58 percent to 42 percent in the runoff for the Republican nomination.
Both candidates agreed much of the race came down to Commission Chairman Mike Boyce's proposed budget, which includes a property tax increase. Weatherford was in the uncomfortable position of defending the taxes— he said he favored a smaller increase than Boyce combined with spending cuts.
“It’s hard for Republicans who end up defending tax increases to get elected again,” Rountree said. “In a primary, it’s really hard.”
Gambrill positioned herself as an economic hawk who would work to balance the books.
Helen Goreham, who sat in the District 1 seat before Weatherford, said she thinks the budget, along with disagreements over development, were the twin arrows in Weatherford’s back.
“The people spoke,” Goreham said. “They did a comparison and supported what Keli stood for, I would believe, especially in the area of development.”
But Goreham, who endorsed Melissa O’Brien in the primary, said she thought his decision to support a tax increase was based on an understanding of the financial situation.
“I went to the debate at Lost Mountain the other evening, and from my personal standpoint, I believe Weatherford gave very practical and very realistic solutions or answers to the budget crisis because he sat in the seat,” Goreham said. “It makes a difference when you actually sit in that seat and handle budget figures. It gives you a much different perspective on the financial aspect … I do not believe that Ms. Gambrill has a clear picture on that.”
Goreham said she is considering running for her old seat as a write-in candidate and will likely announce her decision in four to six weeks. No Democrat qualified to run for the seat.
STATE LEGISLATURE, CONGRESS
Also in west Cobb, Ginny Ehrhart, wife of retiring state Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, defeated Tom Gray in Tuesday’s Republican runoff for her husband’s seat.
Earl Ehrhart has a reputation as a firebrand conservative who is unafraid of being politically incorrect. Rountree believes the association both helped and hurt Ginny Ehrhart.
“There are people that certainly like Earl, and there are people that may not. In some ways, it was very helpful, and in some ways it wasn’t … The more surprising part is the spending calculations. Gray did very well considering he was outspent by quite a large margin,” Rountree said.
Everhart said the name recognition helped, but she said Ginny Ehrhart also got out and worked hard for the win.
But Goreham had a problem with issues about campaign finances that Ginny Ehrhart raised at a candidate forum hosted by the West Cobb Business Association days before the election.
Ginny Ehrhart said Georgia Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission was investigating Gray for “multiple violations” including accepting contributions exceeding limits, failing to make timely two-day business reports, failing to report the two-day business reports on the next regular report, failing to properly report campaign expenditures and failing to identify recipients for payments and disbursements to himself.
Goreham characterized these points as exaggerated.
“There were some issues brought up that were not actually issues about campaign finance, this was something that became a major issue during that debate,” Goreham said.
She said the situation is a sad commentary on the state of politics today.
“Unfortunately, there are a lot of voters out there that do not take the time to educate or become more informed about the candidates, which takes some work and some effort and are too easily swayed by the dramatic and the non-issue stuff. Point in fact was Tom Gray’s supposed campaign financial violations, which really weren’t anything important but became a major issue,” she said.
Ginny Ehrhart will face Democrat Jen Slipakoff in November.
Cobb Republicans voted in most of the big races on Tuesday, but Cobb Democrats got to hit the polls too, selecting their candidate to face U.S. Rep. Karen Handel, R-Roswell, who won her seat in the nation’s most expensive House race last year.
Activist Lucy McBath defeated Kevin Abel to get a chance to take Handel on. McBath, a Marietta resident, ran on a platform of gun reform. Her son was murdered in a shooting in Florida in 2012.
Rountree said McBath has a compelling personal story, but Handel is an incumbent with stacks of cash.
“Handel has a much larger war chest and has run here successfully over and over and over. Even when she lost the governor’s race in 2010, she carried north Fulton. So she generally does very well in this area, and the fact that she won by a fairly large margin against Jon Ossoff when virtually the entire leftist world was donating to Ossoff… If that didn’t do it, she’s just not going to get beat this year,” he said.