Georgia Democrats target Savannah, Valdosta in next week’s mayoral runoffs

The state Democratic Party will deploy staffers to Savannah and Valdosta to help mayoral candidates facing tight runoff contests next week.

The party said Tuesday it will launch a “full get out the vote” effort to back Savannah Alderman Van Johnson and former fire chief J.D. Rice in Valdosta in nonpartisan contests on Dec. 3.

The party is also recruiting volunteers and reaching out to voters to help candidates in metro Atlanta suburbs of College Park, Johns Creek and Smyrna.

“In a low turnout election like this one, we know that every vote is critical,” said Scott Hogan, the party’s executive director.

State Sen. Nikema Williams, the chairwoman of the state Democratic party, said the party launched the initiative to contest nonpartisan municipal races to help build the party's infrastructure at the grassroots.

Her reasoning: Candidates might not have a D or R by their name, she said, but locals often know “who is a Democrat and who is not.”

“Our party never took 2019 as an off year,” she added, “which is why we’ve made early investments across Georgia to build our democracy all year round.

The state party poured money the last two election cycles to defeat Atlanta mayoral candidate Mary Norwood, a self-described independent with loads of Republican support. But it's been less involved in other municipal elections.

That's starting to change. The party claimed victories in a sweep of suburban cities earlier this month. And with runoffs approaching, Democrats are honing in on two of the closest contests.

The first is the race between Johnson and Mayor Eddie DeLoach, the first Republican elected to lead the city in decades. Johnson outpolled DeLoach by more than 1,500 votes earlier this month, but didn't capture the majority needed to win outright.

Johnson has support from other prominent Democrats, including Stacey Abrams. DeLoach, meanwhile, is in familiar territory. He finished in second place in 2015 to defeat incumbent Edna Jackson in the runoff, and says he can pull off a repeat.

The race for Valdosta mayor was closer. Rice, the city’s first black fire chief, captured about one-third of the vote in the crowded contest, while Scott James Matheson, a talk show host, got about a quarter of the support.