Looking to avoid costly holiday runoff, Johnny Isakson kicks off preelection blitz

AUGUSTA – Johnny Isakson may be sitting pretty atop the polls in Georgia’s U.S. Senate race, but the two-term Republican kicked off a final campaign blitz here Friday in order to avoid a runoff that threatens to jolt this sleepy contest into overdrive.

Headlining a tailgate in the parking lot of the GOP’s East Georgia regional headquarters, Isakson urged the assembled party faithful to get the word out to their friends and neighbors.

“A television commercial can cost thousands of dollars but a neighbor leaning over the fence to a neighbor next door saying ‘I’d like you to vote for Johnny Isakson or Rick Allen’ makes more difference than all the thousand-dollar commercials I could ever run,’” said Isakson, who was flanked by Allen, the  Evans Republican who represents Augusta in Congress.

The pair was greeted by a cheerful crowd of roughly 150 who held Isakson signs while munching on Chick-fil-A.

Onlookers ranged from longtime admirers who told of ways Isakson helped them or their family members to Donald Trump supporters who knew little about the GOP senator.

“I really don’t know a whole lot about him but I know my ballot will be a strictly Republican ballot,” said 24-year-old Evan Williams, a police trainee from Augusta, of Isakson.

“We need Isakson,” said Carl Miller, a Grovetown military retiree in his 80s. “We don’t want to lose the Senate. If we gain a president and lose the Senate, we’re in about the same boat we were” under Barack Obama.

Isakson has led Democrat Jim Barksdale and Libertarian Allen Buckley by an average of 11 percentage points in recent polls, according to Real Clear Politics. But his support has hovered around 50 percent, the benchmark he must best in order to avoid the first runoff of his Senate career.

He dismissed Buckley and Barksdale for recently requesting that he commit to serving all six years of a new term should he win reelection next week, a veiled reference to his health.

"Why would you run for an office if you weren't going to serve the time out to start with?" he said.

"Sometimes when people don't have anything to talk about they make things up and I think that's what they're doing there."

From here, Georgia’s senior senator will hit five more cities over the next two days with Gov. Nathan Deal and other allies from Congress and the statehouse, culminating in a rally at Isakson’s home base of Marietta on Monday afternoon.

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About the Author

Tamar Hallerman
Tamar Hallerman
Tamar Hallerman is The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Washington correspondent, covering Congress, federal agencies and other government activities that...