A high-stakes December runoff even without an Abrams-Kemp matchup

Democrat John Barrow and Republican Brad Raffensperger appear to be headed for a December runoff election. File photos.

Combined ShapeCaption
Democrat John Barrow and Republican Brad Raffensperger appear to be headed for a December runoff election. File photos.

Setting the stakes for the secretary of state showdown

Even if the race for governor isn't forced into a runoff, voting rights is set to dominate political debate through Dec. 4 with the runoff for Brian Kemp's old job.

The race pits Democrat John Barrow and Republican Brad Raffensperger, two candidates not necessarily beloved by their party’s bases, in a contest to turn out core supporters possibly without the luxury of a bigger-ticket contest.

That’s the framework of the race if there’s no matchup between Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams on the ballot. And it comes against the backdrop of the same debate over ballot access and voter suppression that swirled for the last year.

Barrow has talked more of using the office as a bully pulpit to rail against gerrymandering and to quickly move the state to un-hackable paper ballots. Raffensperger has vowed to continue many of Kemp's policies, including canceling registrations of voters who hadn't participated in recent elections.

The too-close-to-call governor race has sucked up any attention that would otherwise go to this down-ticket contest, but that could soon change as counties prepare to certify votes this week.

A few of the questions that will be answered about the race in the coming weeks:

  • Can a Democratic candidate so centrist he voted against Nancy Pelosi and ran a folksy ad assuring voters he's a "Democrat, but I won't bite ya" energize the same liberal voters that came out in force for Abrams? And will the Republicans who crossed over and voted for Barrow in November return in December? 
  • Can a low-profile Republican with little name recognition mobilize the same core conservative supporters who carried Kemp to what could be a narrow gubernatorial victory? And will Kemp and other GOP officials play a prominent role in boosting his campaign? 
  • Will persistent questions of whether Kemp abused his role as the state's top elections official catalyze voters to choose his successor? Or do election-weary Georgians tune out the race, leaving only a handful of voters to decide the race? 
  • Will Democrats peeved at Abrams' near-miss - if she can't force the runoff - rush back to the polls to try to give the party a foothold in state government? Will they be countered by Republicans embarrassed by the party's suburban struggles? 

Don’t forget, too, the down-ticket race between Public Service Commissioner Chuck Eaton and Democratic challenger Lindy Miller. That contest has involved a tense fight over the fate of Plant Vogtle and alternative energy programs.