The Jolt: In GOP runoff for governor, keep your eye on those Perdue cousins

U.S. Sen. David Perdue holds his grandson, David Perdue IV, as former Gov. Sonny Perdue looks on in this 2014 file photo. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Caption
U.S. Sen. David Perdue holds his grandson, David Perdue IV, as former Gov. Sonny Perdue looks on in this 2014 file photo. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

The point of Wednesday's call was to get Michael Thurmond's thoughts on Stacey Abrams and Democratic chances in November – and we'll get to that, eventually.

But when we finally tracked the CEO of DeKalb County down in Boston, he also had some thoughts the Republican runoff for governor. I’d posited that, if he chose, Gov. Nathan Deal could weigh in and decide the contest between Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp.

Thurmond had another bellwether in mind. Call them what you will – the Warner Robins mafia, the Houston County gang or simply the Perdue cousins. But the key to the GOP runoff, Thurmond said, is likely to be U.S. Sen. David Perdue and Sonny Perdue, the former Georgia governor and current U.S. secretary of agriculture.

They’re the pair who control Georgia access to President Donald Trump and his 80 percent approval rating among Republicans. They can bring Trump to Georgia.

“They’re going to be the final arbiters of who the Republican nominee for governor is going to be,” Thurmond said. “If they fall in behind Cagle, it’s all over. It cuts Kemp off at the knees if he tries to be Trump and Trump isn’t with him. It doesn’t work. But if they go with Kemp – Kemp’s going to win it.”

Sidenote: You might be asking what Thurmond was doing in Massachusetts a day after the Georgia primary. He was on Dad duty: His 27-year-old daughter, Mikaya Thurmond, was being awarded her masters degree in journalism from Harvard University. She’s the weekend anchor at WRAL-TV in Raleigh, N.C.

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If you're Neil Warren or Butch Conway, the respective sheriffs of Cobb and Gwinnett counties, a cap may have just been put on your tenure.

On Tuesday, Democrats racked up some encouraging statewide numbers. While a handful of boxes may have still been missing, as of Wednesday afternoon, there were 606,215 ballots cast in the Republican contest for governor, and 552,784 on the Democratic side. That’s a gap of only 53,431 ballots.

For Republicans, Tuesday’s voting represents a 1.6 percent gain over the 596,218 ballots cast in the 2014 primary for governor. But Democrats saw a 68 percent gain over the 328,710 ballots cast in the 2014 contested primary for U.S. Senate.

But the more important numbers come from individual counties. In Gwinnett, Democrats(40,538) cast 4,374 more ballots than Republicans (36,164) on Tuesday.

In Cobb, Republicans cast 41,672 votes in their gubernatorial primary. Democrats cast 41,421. That’s a difference of only 251 ballots.

In north Fulton, we have the example of the race for House District 51, a seat being given up by state Rep. Wendell Willard, R-Sandy Springs. The two primaries to replace him were uncontested, but Democrat Josh McLaurin posted 2,556 votes. Republican Alex Kaufman had 2,249. That’s a 307-vote gap favoring the Democrat.

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Here's a question that Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson posed on Wednesday's edition of GPB's "Political Rewind": What in the world happened to white male Democrats in Tuesday's vote?

There aren’t many white men left in the Legislature’s Democratic caucus, and that number took a hit.

State Rep. Darrel Ealum of Albany was ousted by an African-American challenger. And state Sen. Curt Thompson of Tucker lost to Sheikh Rahman, an immigrant from Bangladesh who highlighted his populist views.

Elsewhere on the ballot, Senate Minority Leader Steve Henson, also from Tucker, narrowly avoided a stunning upset from a former reality star who is best known for slapping another participant.

Doug Stoner, a former state senator from Smyrna, was overwhelmed by a political newcomer in one of two Public Service Commission contests. Former Georgia congressman John Barrow did win the Democratic nomination for secretary of state by beating two primary challengers -- but just barely.

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Our AJC colleague Mark Neisse has more details here, but a total of eight state lawmakers were ousted in Tuesday's primaries. In the House, they were: Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine; Howard Mosby, D-Atlanta, the chair of the DeKalb delegation; Johnnie Caldwell, R-Thomaston; John Deffenbaugh, R-Lookout Mountain; Earnest "Coach" Williams, D-Avondale Estates; Dan Gasaway, R-Homer; and Darrel Ealum, D-Albany.

In the Senate, as mentioned above, Curt Thompson, D-Tucker, was the only member of that chamber to lose his seat.

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Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp's final pre-primary television ad, featuring a chainsaw, explosion and a pickup truck, won him a lot of attention -- and perhaps his spot in his party's July runoff. So this spoof caught our eye.

Democrat Josh McCall, a teacher who will face U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, in the Ninth District congressional contest this fall, has a nearly frame-for-frame reproduction -- with his own messaging.

A preview: "I'm so conservative I actually have things I want to conserve -- like the environment, Social Security and health care for my neighbors." Watch it here:

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Georgia GOP mega-lawyer Randy Evans will get his big day in Washington today. The U.S. Senate is scheduled to hold a confirmation vote this afternoon on his nomination to be ambassador to Luxembourg.

It's been a long road for the longtime Newt Gingrich confidante. Read the backstory about the Senate fight surrounding his confirmation here.

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Georgia Supreme Court Justice Britt Grant had her own turn in the U.S. Senate hot seat yesterday during her confirmation hearing. Grant was introduced by Georgia's two senators, Johnny Isakson and David Perdue, and she "sailed through" her Senate Judiciary hearing to be a judge on the federal appeals court in Atlanta, according to the Daily Report.

Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, emailed us with a similar assessment:

"She was responsive to members' questions and carefully articulated the role of a federal judge and most senators appeared satisfied with her responses. The Ga. Senators who introduced her offered powerful support. Grant has strong credentials and clerked for a respected DC Circuit judge." He predicted she'll be confirmed in the weeks ahead.

Grant’s nomination, however, is not without controversy. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights on Wednesday circulated a letter urging senators to reject her:

"Although she has not had controversial cases during her first year on that court, in her previous job as solicitor general of Georgia her work sought to diminish civil and human rights in America," the group wrote in its letter.

The group cites her work to overturn substantial portions of the Voting Rights Act, and her defense of a 2012 “fetal pain” law passed by the Legislature, sharply curtailing the period during which women can seek abortions.