Possible runoffs spur GOP on final stretch

After an election campaign that has been bruising, tiring and rather uninspiring, it appears Georgia Republicans have finally found their muse: the Grinch, er, runoff that stole Christmas.

When Sen. Saxby Chambliss announced in January 2013 that he would not seek re-election this year, Democrats bided their time. Republicans jumped into the fray almost immediately. Their primary battle consumed their party long before it became clear Gov. Nathan Deal would also have to fight to win a second term.

It has long seemed likely that neither top-of-the-ticket race would be resolved on Nov. 4. Because of a federal court ruling involving overseas absentee ballots, though, those runoffs would not be held the same day. Deal would face the voters again on Dec. 2, Perdue on Jan. 6.

Runoffs have been fruitful for the Georgia GOP over the years. But with a primary runoff already in the books, two more runoffs would mean the party was asking the faithful to show up for the fourth and fifth times in just 33 weeks.

That’s asking a lot when Republican verve was already in doubt: An AJC poll last week found Deal and Perdue each trailed their opponents by 11 percentage points on the question of whose supporters were “very enthusiastic.” Finding campaign mailers mixed in with their Christmas cards and seeing more political ads during December than TNT screenings of “A Christmas Story” wouldn’t improve morale.

There’s also the matter of expectations. In 2010, Republicans won all eight statewide seats plus a Senate seat, each by at least 9 points. Anything short of a sweep would disappoint. But Georgia Democrats, after such a shellacking, would gain a moral victory even by reaching a single runoff; winning one would put their renaissance ahead of schedule.

And so, buoyed by a string of recent polls showing Deal and Perdue seizing momentum and trending slowly toward that magical plateau of 50 percent plus one vote, the GOP is borrowing from that old Robin Williams riff about unarmed British cops:

Vote! Or I’ll say vote again!

“This is the difference your vote will make” on Nov. 4, U.S. Rep. Tom Graves told a few dozen supporters Tuesday at a rally in Forsyth County, citing a poll that came out that day showing Perdue was at 48 percent. “If we get two more points, there’ll be no more mail pieces, no more phone calls.”

It’s a message that one audience member, Regina Kelton, said is resonating in her circles.

“Of course there are some stragglers out there,” she said, “but most people understand this is a serious situation.”

Kelton, who said she volunteered with the party during George H.W. Bush’s presidency, was sporting a shirt touting a Senate candidate of that vintage — Paul Coverdell (who, of course, needed a runoff to win back in 1992). Kelton said it has actually been easier to motivate fellow Republicans to vote in this election than in other recent ones.

“This is different,” she said. “The thing that’s scary is that it is so close.”

Maybe, just maybe, an election scare at Halloween will keep the runoff Grinch away from Christmas.

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