The issues and races to watch tonight

After months of campaigning, millions of dollars spent on advertising and no shortage of bickering, the primary vote is finally upon us. Here's a few key factors to watch today that could help determine the nominees for the open Senate seat and the other top races

Turnout: No one is quite sure what type of voter participation to expect at the polls today with the earliest primary in Georgia's recorded history. A lighter turnout could benefit Rep. Paul Broun and former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel, two GOP Senate candidates who expect their more fervent supporters to turn out regardless. Businessman David Perdue and Rep. Jack Kingston, who seek to appeal to a broader cross-section of voters in their Senate bids, both rely on bigger turnout. Ditto for Gov. Nathan Deal and Michelle Nunn, the Democratic front-runner for Senate, who both depend on a blanketing of support to overwhelm lesser-known challengers.

North Georgia: The northern third of the state has become the epicenter of Georgia's political power, and the governor from Gainesville is relying on big numbers in the region to power him past two GOP opponents who also lay claim to the Republican stronghold: Pennington and Superintendent John Barge. But no Senate candidates have a lock on the vote-rich area, despite heavy campaigning in those parts by each of them. As Handel learned in her 2010 gubernatorial runoff against Deal, strong support from the region can help offset metro Atlanta votes.

Independents: Independent voters make up one of the most important blocs in Georgia, and polls show many have yet to make up their mind. Sure, the right-leaning electorate will factor more prominently in the general election, but their vote could also be a deciding factor in the top GOP races. That's particularly true this cycle as even Democratic-leaning independents will be tempted to vote in GOP races given the high stakes involved. The AJC poll released last week shows that independents gave Nunn a lead over all but two GOP contenders: Perdue and Handel. Perdue, in particular, relies on support from swing voters who are attracted to his outsider image and business background. If they stay home, he may be in store for a long night.

Issues voters: A significant chunk of voters pick their candidates based solely on a few key issues. That AJC poll showed that most voters hold views on the healthcare law, gun rights expansion and the economy as highly important; a shade fewer than half of voters said positions on gay marriage and abortion are that important. With each of the top GOP contenders pushing to scrap Obamacare and advocating Second Amendment rights, rhetoric that sets a candidate apart - Gingrey's vow to repeal Obamacare or 'go home' comes to mind - may resonate with this crowd.


Now to the races themselves:

U.S. Senate, Republican: Does a last-minute sprint by former secretary of state Karen Handel knock U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston out of a runoff with businessman David Perdue? If so, the story of the evening would be the failure of three sitting members of Congress to survive the first round in a statewide race. For those of you unafraid of longer odds: Does a weak GOP turnout open the way for U.S. Reps. Paul Broun of Athens or Phil Gingrey of Marietta to pull a major upset?

Governor, Republican: In an AJC poll conducted earlier this month, 68 percent of GOP voters approved of incumbent Nathan Deal’s performance in office. Tonight’s question: With two challengers in the mix, David Penning and John Barge, will Deal come in below or above that number.

U.S. Senate, Democrat: Look for centrist Michelle Nunn to be quickly declared the winner this evening. Any share earned by Branko “Dr. Rad” Radulovacki will be a measure of disaffection from the left, while former state senator Steen Miles’ performance could be a sign of unrest among African-Americans. Todd Robinson of Columbus is also in the race.

Governor, Democrat: Given that Jason Carter is the only candidate on the ballot, an upset is unlikely.

Congress, 11th District, Republican: Who pairs with former state senator Barry Loudermilk of Cassville in a runoff. Can either businesswoman Tricia Pridemore or state Rep. Ed Lindsey of Atlanta spoil former congressman Bob Barr’s attempt at a return?

Congress, 10th District, Republican: Preacher and radio talk show host Jody Hice appears set for the runoff, with former state lawmaker Donna Sheldon of Dacula battling Mike Collins of Jackson for the second spot.

Congress, 12th District, Republican: Businessman Rick Allen is assured of moving on, but with or without a runoff? Questions about Eugene Yu’s fundraising and a late start by state Rep. Delvis Dutton make a sweep possible.

Congress, 4th District, Democratic: Incumbent Hank Johnson avoided debates and emphasized a White House endorsement in the final days, but former DeKalb County sheriff Tom Brown is a consummate on-the-ground campaigner. If there’s an upset tonight, this may be it.

State School Superintendent, Republican: Will two well-funded African-American candidates, Ashley Bell of Gainesville and Fitz Johnson of Marietta, survive a first round of voting? And will a non-partisan sheriff’s race DeKalb County, to fill the unexpired term of Tom Brown, prompt a surge of GOP balloting that gives former DeKalb school board member and tea partyer Nancy Jester a runoff berth?

State School Superintendent, Democrat: It’s a case of old school versus new school. Valarie Wilson, former head of the state school superintendent’s organization, has the support of the traditional public school network. State Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan of Austell is a champion of the charter school crowd.

State House, District 7: House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, has spent the last several weeks at home, dealing with a GOP primary challenge from high school wrestling coach Sam Snider – who has been aided by tea party groups and Georgia Right to Life. As with Gov. Nathan Deal, it’s not a question of whether Ralston wins, but by how much.

House Republican incumbents: A dozen or so state legislative races have been targeted by a new, well-funded business group known as Georgia Coalition for Job Growth. But only three House Republican incumbents have been singled out for defeat by the group: State Reps. Sam Moore of Ball Ground, Charles Gregory of Kennesaw, and Jason Spencer of Woodbine. The outcome of this trio of races could determine the tone for next year’s session of the Legislature.


In response to Monday's post about federal judicial nominee Michael Boggs, who now sits on the state court of appeals, and his attendance at certain campaign events, former House speaker Terry Coleman, a Democrat from Eastman, Ga., sent this note this morning:

Criticizing Judge Mike Boggs for attending conservative functions while his represented his constituency is like criticizing President Barrack Obama for attending Jeremiah Wright's church when he represented his constituency. They both have and will do the right thing as required by their oaths of office.  Mike Boggs is fair and extremely capable.


Republicans made some hay Monday out of this Michelle Nunn interview on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," in which she ducked and dodged on whether she would have voted for the Affordable Care Act.

Said NBC analyst Chuck Todd:

"Nothing screamed practiced politician like that answer Michelle Nunn gave on health care. You just can't -- it just doesn't come across as credible. What's at least more credible, saying, 'Well, I supported it but I don't like this, this, and this.' At least there's credibility when you give that answer. When you say, 'Well, I was busy doing another job' ... it just doesn't come across as credible."

Slate's Dave Weigel got the full -- meatier -- transcript from the Nunn campaign. His verdict:

"In short, Nunn did dodge the question. But she went into some practiced detail about the ways she wanted to change the law, and she confirmed that she wouldn't vote for repeal. She tried to finesse Obamacare, signaling to Democratic voters that she basically supported it (come on, had she been in the Senate in 2009, she would have voted like any red-state Dem), but mentioned specific changes. Take out all the specifics and you've got a much worse answer. That's not [NBC reporter Kasie] Hunt's fault, at all. She asked better questions than I did, and dug a soundbite out of a long boilerplate answer. It's just dishonest for Republicans to pretend Nunn had nothing more to say."


In today's AJC we look at what the turnout could be across Georgia for today's election. A turnout closer to the 2010 primary, when 680,000 people voted in the Republican gubernatorial primary, likely helps David Perdue and, to an extent, Jack Kingston in the Senate race. The others get a boost from lower turnout.

Rep. Paul Broun's team is expecting and hoping it's far lower. This from Broun chief of staff David Bowser:

"We are talking about a potential GOP turnout around 350,000-400,000 GOP voters. With that, what does it take to make the runoff of a seven-candidate primary? 100,000 votes? Our people are super energized and our early voting/absentee ballot chase calls are showing  one third Broun voters or lean voters. ...

"I'm not saying yet that Broun will be in the runoff, but I'd ignore the 'likely voters' in favor of the 'actual voters.' Paul Broun was counted out in 2007 and 2008 by the pundits and media alike, are they ready for strike 3?"


As the only candidate in the Democratic race for governor, Jason Carter has some free time on his hands. He’s cut this robocall endorsing Democratic incumbent John Eaves over Robb Pitts in the race for Fulton County Commission chairman:


In the GOP race to replace U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey of Marietta, businesswoman Tricia Pridemore is touting the endorsement of Sarah Huckabee Sanders, daughter of former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.


In the race for state school superintendent, Republican Ashley Bell, a Common Core opponent, has been endorsed by former congressman J.C. Watts.


See that bald guy in the masthead above? Thirty-five years ago today, he walked into the AJC and began making a living with his typing skills.

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.