So who will be Cobb’s next chairman? It will all be history in about eight weeks when on July 26 voters will decide who’ll lead the county for the next four years.
Last month’s primary saw challenger Mike Boyce come within an eyelash — 335 or so votes — of unseating Tim Lee.
If the race had not sported third-place finisher Larry Savage, who pooled 10 percent of the vote, there would be a new occupant next year in the second floor corner office of the county building on Cherokee Street. (Unless a third-party or independent candidate files for the November election, the runoff winner will assume office.)
The Savage campaign platform was similar to Boyce’s in that they both focused not so much on what is being accomplished in Cobb County, but HOW it’s being accomplished.
On the former, there is little to attack when comparing Cobb to other metro Atlanta counties. Taxes are lower than surrounding metro counties. Cobb continues to be a darling in the eyes of all credit agencies. Property values, SPLOST sales tax collections are on the rise. Unemployment is down and below the state average. The county is seeing unprecedented growth.
So as challengers must do in times of prosperity, the Boyce and Savage campaigns raised questions of process, not results.
The linchpin has been how the Atlanta Braves came to be in Cobb County. After the primary results were in, Boyce said this is the campaign plank that resonated with voters. “‘You can vote on the $40 million park bond, why can’t we vote on a ($368 million) stadium bond?’ That’s how we framed it.”
The challengers’ common theme would presumably lead odds-makers to tilt the scales to Boyce, reasoning Savage voters would more likely support the remaining contester over the incumbent.
As for an endorsement, Savage is not ready — at least at this point. When asked if he will vote July 26, the answer was yes. When asked who he will vote for, he said he’s not ready to say.
So while on the surface the primary results color Boyce as a shoo-in, there’s a reason Georgia holds runoff elections. The candidate with the most votes in the primary doesn’t always prevail.
Lee had a large cash advantage going into the primary campaign — $171,071.96 on hand compared to Boyce’s $11,308.99, according to the most recent campaign documents filed in April. While much of the money has already been spent, Lee will still be in a position to vastly outspend his opponent between now and the runoff.
The most significant variable will be voter turnout. Take a look at the numbers.
Cobb has about 559,000 residents of voting age. Of those, 69.7 percent, or 389,533, are registered. Of those, a dismal 13.3 percent, or 51,614, voted in the primary.
Four years ago when Lee defeated former county chairman Bill Byrne in an August runoff, turnout was even more disappointing — 8.5 percent — for a ballot that included six contests: state representative, chairman, district commissioner, court clerk, school board and state court judge. The chairman’s race that year saw even fewer voters — with only 7 percent of registered voters casting ballots for Lee or Byrne.
This year’s runoff ballot will include only two races — chairman and one judge’s bench — not a great calling card to get people to the polls. So based on this history, one could anticipate another 7 percent turnout. It could be even less.
Instead of the 36,000 people who voted in the primary, it could be about half that number who will choose Cobb’s next chairman. That changes the picture dramatically.
Candidate Boyce ran a grassroots campaign. As of last weekend, his website reported 23,433 voters visited and 47,467 voters called. (One side benefit to this style of campaigning, Boyce admits, is that by hoofing it all over the county day in and day out, he’s found he can eat anything he wants to — without putting on pounds.)
He did well getting his supporters to the polls. Can he do it again?
Meanwhile, as Lee is the more established politician, one could surmise his stream of support more steady.
And then there is the Ott factor. District 2 Commissioner Bob Ott easily defeated his May challenger, but worked hard to get out the vote (12.8 percent, or 13,824 voters out of 107,764 registered in his district). Often Lee’s nemesis on commission votes and board policy, Ott supporters would likely have voted for one of the two challengers in the chairman’s race. Ott won’t be on the July ballot, which could mean fewer District 2 voters and therefore fewer anti-incumbent votes.
If nothing else, the May 24 result has been a startling wakeup call for the incumbent. While many predicted the race would result in a runoff, few were talking about Boyce winning it outright, which he nearly did. If nothing else, Lee’s campaign must be rethinking strategy and pulling out all the stops for the next eight weeks.
As for Boyce, his successful plan won’t change, he says.
He’s likely knocking on someone’s door right now.