September 5, 2019 Savannah - Savannah Mayor Eddie DeLoach speaks during a press conference at Chatham County building in Savannah on Thursday, September 5, 2019. Hurricane Dorian has toppled trees and knocked out power to more than 15,000 customers in this region, including more than half of those on Tybee Island. Dorian grew into a Category 3 hurricane overnight as it drew power from warm Gulf Stream water and had weakened a bit by lunchtime Thursday. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

The Jolt: Democrats score in Savannah, Doraville -- and come close in other runoffs

Another political tradition may be on its way out in Georgia. Runoff elections may no longer be the Republican cakewalks they have been.

Democrats didn’t win every clean-up race they contested on Tuesday, but they won the largest prize -- and came close in many other nominally nonpartisan municipal contests across the state.

Four years after analysts declared a “sea change” in Savannah with the election of Mayor Eddie DeLoach, the first Republican to lead the city in decades, he was swept out of office by an overwhelming margin.

City Alderman Van Johnson won roughly 60% of the runoff vote and tallied about 3,500 more ballots than he did in the Nov. 5 general election against DeLoach.

He was helped by the Democratic Party of Georgia and Stacey Abrams, the former gubernatorial nominee who endorsed Johnson weeks ago and headlined a rally for him just before the vote. Other Democrats, including U.S. Senate candidate Sarah Riggs Amico, also rallied voters in the coastal city.

DeLoach’s 2015 victory was a seismic electoral shift in a city with a population that’s 55 percent black and hadn’t elected a Republican-leaning mayor since 1991

He won that race with the support of former Republican congressman Jack Kingston and searing criticism of the city’s handling of hot-button issues like crime and punishment.

But four years later, Johnson picked apart DeLoach’s criminal justice record and criticized his management style. He appealed to DeLoach voters by saying he’d bring more consensus to City Hall.

He also reached out to the Democratic base by promising to hold town halls in disenfranchised communities and made addressing homelessness and affordable housing a priority in his campaign. 

The Democratic Party of Georgia also waded into the Valdosta mayor’s race, backing J.D. Rice over Scott James Matheson. Matheson leads this morning with 123 ballots, according to the Valdosta Daily Times. The contest will likely be determined by provisional ballots, which are to be counted Friday.

Closer to home, former city councilman Joseph Geierman, a gay real estate director for a local law firm, beat incumbent Donna Pittman in the runoff for mayor of Doraville. Geierman, who had the support of several Democratic state lawmakers, won 65% of the vote.

Pittman endorsed Republican Karen Handel in her 2017 Sixth District congressional contest against Democrat Jon Ossoff.

In Smyrna, City Councilman Derek Norton was elected mayor, but just barely. After leading a crowded field with 47% of the November vote, Norton won with 51% last night.

Norton is director of government relations for the Medical Association of Georgia, and has strong GOP connections. His opponent was 26-year-old Ryan Campbell, the son of Jamaican immigrants, part owner of a local bistro and a two-degreed graduate of the University of Alabama.

On the other hand, veteran Councilwoman Andrea Blustein was defeated by Austin Wagner, a 29-year-old Democratic consultant, who won with 57% of the vote.

In an earlier post, we had also pointed to the one runoff for the Johns Creek City Council that involved an incumbent. On Tuesday, Councilman Chris Coughlin easily survived a runoff challenge by Marybeth Cooper with 65% of the vote.

The restlessness of voters often had nothing to do with party. The mayors of Albany, College Park, and Morrow were also ousted on Tuesday.

***

We told you Tuesday of a photo making the rounds that had Kelly Loeffler, who is expected to be named as Johnny Isakson’s replacement in the U.S. Senate today, standing next to Democrat Stacey Abrams.

The photo, as it turns out, originated in Abrams’ campaign Twitter feed -- back in September 2018, when she was running for governor. Against Kemp.

As we suspected, it is a group shot that had been cropped. Here’s the original:

***

An early peek at Kelly Loeffler’s prepared remarks today will include her assertion that she’s “pro-military, pro-wall and pro-Trump.”

***

That said, many on the right aren’t likely to be satisfied. On Tuesday, Lou Dobbs of Fox Business joined Sean Hannity of Fox News in condemning Gov. Brian Kemp’s pick, pointing to President Donald Trump’s endorsement of U.S. Rep. Doug Collins for the slot.

He is now telling the president of the United States to go to hell,” said Dobbs, adding that the move will “tear asunder” the Georgia GOP.

Which is why Tuesday’s endorsement of Loeffler by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was so important. WSB Radio’s Jamie Dupree kindly sent us the sound:

“I spoke to her on Sunday. It sounds to me like the governor of Georgia made a terrific appointment. She will be a Republican incumbent senator. We will all be behind her....I’m confident that someone we’re working with every day is going to enjoy almost total support within the Republican Senate conference.”

The National Republican Senatorial Committee has already promised to back Loeffler against challengers -- who could include Collins.

***

ICYMI: Why Johnny Isakson’s daylong good-bye was well-timed for Gov. Brian Kemp and Kelly Loeffler.

***

One senses some doubt on the part of former Georgia governor and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue when he’s asked about Georgia Republican prospects in 2020, in this CNBC “Squakbox” interview today -- emphasis ours:

“Well, many people like to talk about Georgia becoming purple. I don't think that's the case. I think that seat will be safe, i think. again, Georgians recognize what this Republican administration meant to Georgia as well as the U.S. economy. I think the chances are very good it will remain a Republican seat. We think both of those Senate seats will remain in Republican hands.”

***

The tributes to Sen. Johnny Isakson on Tuesday natural focused heavily on his reputation for working well with others, even those in the opposing party. And in his farewell speech, he encouraged colleagues to embrace that bipartisan spirit and resist pressures to stick to party lines.

But there was also a great deal of focus on Isakson’s wins in Congress by passing legislation that impacted his constituents back home. There was more than one mention of how he bonded with the family of slain Peace Corps volunteer Kate Puzey, ultimately resulting in a new safety protections.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told a story about Isakson pressing for changes to a pension bill to protect the interests of one of Georgia’s biggest employers: Delta Air Lines. When an Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter asked Isakson how he celebrated his victory, he said he went home and drank a gin and tonic while doing his laundry.

“This anecdote is almost the perfect encapsulation of Senator Isakson,” McConnell said. “It starts with tenacity and a can-do spirit, it’s propelled forward by charisma, smarts and stubborn patience, and it ends with a win for Georgians and one celebratory cocktail while wrist-deep in laundry detergent.”

More here from “Johnny Day” in the Senate.

***

One more Tuesday result from our AJC colleague Maya Prabhu:

A former mayor edged out his opponent in a close runoff special election for a vacant southwest Georgia state House seat.

Bill Yearta, a jeweler and former mayor of Sylvester, received about 115 more votes than his opponent Jim Quinn, according to unofficial results from the Secretary of State’s office.

The two Republicans — both former mayors — faced off Tuesday to replace former state Rep. Ed Rynders, R-Albany, who resigned earlier this year. They were the top two vote-getters in a four-way special election last month.

***

A report outlining President Donald Trump’s alleged wrongdoing is now in the hands of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, which will hold its first impeachment hearing this morning.

Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff will not present the report in person; he is sending a staff attorney to do the honors. That is likely to become a point of contention for U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, who has repeatedly called for Schiff to testify under oath about the instigation.

Collins, the top-ranking Republican on Judiciary, will have the floor often during today’s hearing. In addition to making opening and closing statements, he will be allotted 45 minutes to question the panel of constitutional experts. Collins can share that time with a staff attorney if he wants, but he doesn’t have to.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

X