In the end, it came down to turnout. Incumbent Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee was able to get just enough voters to come back for a runoff election Tuesday to win re-election to the seat he's held the past two years.
For Lee, the win — pending certification of official results — marks the beginning of his first full four-year term as the top official of the state's fourth-largest county. It's the conservative stronghold that has produced other notable politicians including state Attorney General Sam Olens, former Gov. Roy Barnes and former U.S. House Speaker and presidential candidate Newt Gingrich.
Initial voting results showed that Bill Byrne, a former Cobb chairman, won the early voting race, but the numbers flipped once Election Day results began coming in.
"Our work is just now beginning," Lee said, addressing supporters at the Embassy Suites hotel in Kennesaw. "We have a lot to do in terms of transportation, addressing regional issues and budget problems ... to make sure Cobb is competitive and continues to grow."
Lee's involvement and support of the failed regional transportation referendum largely contributed to the need for a runoff. Despite his incumbency and name recognition, he failed to garner enough support to beat three other primary challengers outright, including Byrne.
The intensity of the three weeks leading up to the runoff ratcheted up from a few disparaging comments about tax increases and some questions about leadership experience between all four candidates, to a downright political battle between Lee and Byrne. On primary night, Lee noted that politics is a contact sport, while Byrne promised to keep the heat on Lee's T-SPLOST involvement and support of a property tax increase last year.
(That same association with the transportation tax was key in unseating commission chairs in Clayton and Henry counties.)
"I gave the citizens of Cobb a choice, and if they voted for Tim, then the direction of Cobb County for the next four years is their responsibility," Byrne said from his Election Night headquarters at the Marietta Hilton conference center.
Byrne, who was Cobb's chairman from 1992 to 2002, had the support of twice-failed chairman candidate and retired east Cobb engineer Larry Savage and other residents who disapproved of Lee's supposed tax-and-spend persona.
Lee's longtime associations with county business leaders allowed him to counter with a number of print and online ads designed to cast a shadow over Byrne's past, including Byrne's support of a failed composting plan that cost county taxpayers more than $60 million.
Lee, who doesn't face a Democratic opponent in the Nov. 6 election, has already promised not to raise taxes this year.
In addition to Lee's win, Cobb also will welcome a new southwest commissioner. Community activist and political newcomer Lisa Cupid appeared to have handily beaten incumbent Commissioner Woody Thompson in the Democratic primary to represent that area. There is no Republican opponent for Nov. 6.