Duncan faces uphill battle against Shafer in lieutenant governor race

Geoff Duncan, left, and David Shafer are vying to be the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor in this month’s runoff. Submitted photos.

Geoff Duncan, left, and David Shafer are vying to be the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor in this month’s runoff. Submitted photos.

Geoff Duncan acknowledges he has an uphill battle to win the Republican runoff for lieutenant governor later this month.

David Shafer, a state senator, nearly walked away with the nomination outright in May, falling just short of 50 percent of the vote. Candidates that get that close in primaries typically win runoffs.

And Shafer, a Duluth resident, has also outpaced Duncan in fundraising. As of June 30, Shafer received $2.5 million in contributions to his campaign, almost three times as much as Duncan.

Shafer has raised almost as much just in the past three months as Duncan, who lives in Cumming, has since he got into the race.

Still, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll released Friday showed Shafer with a slight lead over Duncan.

According to the poll, 34.4 percent of likely Republican voters said they would vote for Shafer, compared with 31.4 percent who said they would vote for Duncan. About one-third of voters said they were undecided.

Duncan, a former state House representative, has embraced his "underdog" role, releasing a campaign commercial this month playing off his former college and minor-league baseball career.

“This is hard,” he told a group of Forsyth County Republicans in his hometown. “Outsiders are not supposed to win races like this.”

Of course, Donald Trump could have said the same thing when he was seeking the GOP presidential nomination.

Many in Duncan’s friendly crowd said they welcomed the opportunity to send one of their own to the lieutenant governor’s office.

“It has to do with having a personal relationship,” Cumming resident Bill Gasper said. “I know where he stands. I don’t have anything against David Shafer, but I think (Duncan) has a very good chance.”

Shafer’s campaign staffers said they prefer to let their strategy speak for itself and declined to discuss any potential moves in the last weeks before the election.

Being a perceived underdog has caused Duncan to aggressively target Shafer in his stump speeches. An outside political action committee also hammered Shafer in campaign ads.

“I’ve got (a couple of) weeks to show Republicans all across this state that I’m going to be the next lieutenant governor or (Democrat) Sarah Amico is going to be the next lieutenant governor,” Duncan told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “David Shafer is not going to be the next lieutenant governor. He’s too flawed.”

Duncan pointed to a sexual harassment accusation against Shafer — as well as what he calls a lack of clarity about how the longtime senator makes his money — as liabilities in a general election.

In April, Shafer was cleared by the Senate Ethics Committee when lawmakers dismissed a sexual harassment complaint filed by a lobbyist.

Duncan last month also launched a website, www.ShaferWhistleblowers.com, seeking anonymous tips with information about Shafer's income. As of Wednesday, Duncan's campaign said it was investigating one of the about 10 tips the site had generated.

Shafer filed an extensive, 16-page financial disclosure in March, listing a net worth of about $5.6 million in 2017. Shafer said he has invested in several businesses, including some that sell liability insurance, and a warehousing business he purchased from his father-in-law.

Shafer, meanwhile, plans to stay the course that almost led him to amassing half of the vote in May, highlighting his 16 years of experience as a “conservative workhorse” who knows how to get things done under the Gold Dome.

At campaign events, he touts endorsements from several conservative organizations, including the National Rifle Association, Georgia Right to Life and the Atlanta Tea Party.

“We have organization in virtually every county working hard to turn the vote back out again,” he said.

But recent attacks from a Washington-based political action committee spurred Shafer to hit back.

“I’m disappointed in the increasingly desperate and dishonest attacks of my opponent,” Shafer said. “My supporters are angry and energized by Duncan’s false attacks. I believe his tactics will be resoundingly rejected on Election Day.”

After the release of campaign mailers and a commercial paid for by the Hometown Freedom Action Network last week, his campaign responded with a website of its own.

The site, deceptiveduncan.com/lies, was launched as a way to "expose and rebut Duncan's lies," Shafer campaign spokesman Bryan Piligra said.

Duncan “will do or say anything, no matter how desperate, dishonest or self-demeaning,” Piligra said.

Shafer on Wednesday also released his own commercial responding to the accusations, saying conservatives need to "attack the radical left agenda, not each other."

Both Shafer and Duncan spent the first few weeks after the primary soliciting campaign donations, ramping up public appearances and holding private fundraisers in the month before the July 24 runoff.

Shafer has also rolled out hundreds of endorsements from local, state and national politicians in the weeks since the May primary.

Duncan campaign adviser Chip Lake said it’s not surprising that Shafer, as someone who’s been involved in politics for decades as a state GOP director, Republican campaign manager, candidate for statewide office and later state senator, is getting the support of other elected officials.

“It’s clear Shafer’s strategy is to get as many endorsements as he can, and good for him,” Lake said. “I’ve never been a believer that voters are waiting on other elected officials to tell them how to vote.”