The Jolt: Candidates scramble to adjust to primary election delay

A poll worker wearing protective gloves waits to assist voters during special election in March in Dacula.

News and analysis from the AJC politics team

The delay of Georgia's primary to June 9 ends a high-stakes game of chicken between Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and just about every high-profile Georgia Republican not named Brian Kemp.

It also further scrambles the calculations of the hundreds of local, state and federal candidates running for county posts, state legislative seats, U.S. House races and the U.S. Senate contest now pushed back to June.

They're navigating a coronavirus-tinged campaign with drastically-scaled back fundraising and a temporary end to traditional methods of retail politicking and door-to-door canvassing.

Virtual campaigning is now the only option, though there’s no telling how effective it is.

The crisis appears to help those with the highest name recognition, whether they be incumbents with a solid base of support or challengers known throughout the community or the state. With the public’s attention on a spreading pandemic, many voters might not tune into the down-ticket back-and-forth.

But the shifting election dates and continuing public health concerns might also benefit candidates with the most intense support. Distracted or worried Georgians may not mail in ballots (or head to the polls) with the same enthusiasm if the pandemic didn't consume their attention.

The delay also could be a boon for state legislative incumbents, who now have more time to restock campaign coffers to counter primary opponents.

They can’t raise cash while the Legislature is in session, and the indefinite postponement last month put them in a fundraising limbo. They now have a few more weeks to hope that a Sine Die in May or June opens the spigots again.

Our AJC colleague James Salzer has more details on that notion here, and he catalogues the growing resources of outside groups rallying to back incumbents.

Kemp, we should note, stayed on the sidelines on this fight – publicly and, as far as we can tell, behind the scenes. He and his aides repeatedly said he didn’t have the authority to postpone the election using his emergency powers, and we’re told attorneys for the state adopted the same position.

Asked at a press conference about the push to postpone the vote, the former secretary of state said he was too caught up in Georgia’s response to the coronavirus pandemic to plunge into the particulars of the primary.

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Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is the centerpiece of a Politico story about how local leaders are looking to each other — and not to the White House — for tips on how to contain the coronavirus.

The Democrat said she's on a text thread with at least 10 other mayors trading guidance and ideas. From the story:

“We have taken a lot of steps not knowing what the federal government would do but assuming we would have to go it alone,” she told POLITICO. “Hopefully all of the things that they claim will be coming to cities and to our communities will come to pass. But my posture has been we’ll assume that nothing is coming and that we will have to do this in the way that’s appropriate for our community.”

Instead, Bottoms has sought support from her counterparts in major cities grappling with similar outbreaks. While Atlanta has been a leader on issues like hazard pay for frontline workers, Bottoms said, it’s also followed policies from other cities.

She said she modeled Atlanta’s stay-at-home order after San Francisco Mayor London Breed’s, took messaging cues from Birmingham, Ala., Mayor Randall Woodfin, plans to roll out a grant program for residents similar to what Mayor Melvin Carter has done in St. Paul, Minn., and spoke to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

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In endorsement news:

-The Georgia Chamber of Commerce backed incumbent Supreme Court Justices Charlie Bethel and Sarah Warren.

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A political committee whose mission is to help Republicans regain control of the U.S. House has secured $3.2 million in Georgia advertising for the fall.

The Congressional Leadership Fund has already spent $43 million nationally in hopes of protecting seats held by Republicans, plus regaining some new ones.

In Georgia, the money will be focused in the 7th Congressional District where the GOP hopes to keep control of the seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, the Washington Post reported. The super PAC is also targeting freshman U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta, in hopes of flipping her 6th Congressional District back to red.

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The Atlanta Press Club will host a series of virtual debates featuring candidates for U.S. Senate, U.S. House and a Public Service Commission race.

The Loudermilk-Young Debate Series is scheduled to take place on May 3 and 4, although it is unclear if the calendar will shift now that the primary election has been moved back. All qualified candidates running for the U.S. Sen. David Perdue's seat, congressional districts 6, 7, 9, 13 and 14 and PSC District 4 will be invited to participate.

The debates, held in partnership with Georgia Public Broadcasting, will be aired live and available on demand both on the Press Club’s Facebook page and the GPB website.

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Some softer news: 

  • State Reps. Angelika Kausche and CaMia Hopson partnered with local Chinese-Americans to deliver 1,200 N95 masks donated by the SINO-Next Generation Foundation to a hard-hit Albany hospital. 

  • A few days after U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler flew two stranded Georgians back home on her private jet, she tweeted that she bought Chick-fil-A lunches for healthcare workers at two Atlanta hospitals. 

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U.S. Sen. David Perdue's opponents are linking him to the stock trading controversy that has plagued his counterpart, Kelly Loeffler.

Perdue’s staff and supporters have been trying to keep him out of the fray involving Loeffler, who was criticized for selling off stocks and making questionable purchases after attending a private coronavirus briefing. Perdue’s transactions were more mixed, although he also faced criticism for actively trading during the pandemic.

Georgia's two senators both said that financial advisers have complete control over their portfolios and handle all decision-making. However, Loeffler on Wednesday announced that she will no longer trade stocks in individual companies.

The AJC's Greg Bluestein has this dispatch from a recent internet town hall hosted by the Fulton County Democratic Party, where three Democrats challenging Perdue all piled on:

At a virtual forum late Thursday, the trio of contenders repeatedly mentioned Perdue and Loeffler in the same breath as they accused both Republicans of profiting from a disease that’s killed hundreds of Georgians and sickened more than 10,000.

Their calls for stronger ethics rules underscored the challenges both Republicans face as Democrats seize on their financial records to energize voters whose lives have been upended by the pandemic. 

Sarah Riggs Amico, Jon Ossoff and Teresa Tomlinson face a June 9 primary in the race for Perdue’s seat, while Loeffler is on a November special election ballot against 20 other candidates.

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Georgia's U.S. senators have signed onto a request that federal administrators ease regulations visas for foreign laborers.

U.S. Sen. David Perdue has taken the lead on the effort, which includes requests to the U.S. Department of Labor and the Homeland Security Department asking for extended contract periods for people granted H-2A guest worker visas. The senators also said farmers should be allowed to share laborers with other companies, as they all try to keep up with demand on resources during the pandemic.

“Your agencies have equities in the functioning of our nation’s immigration system, and we urge you to adopt flexibilities that will protect our country’s food supply as you administer the H-2A temporary agricultural worker program during this crisis,” the senators wrote.

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